What is the government interest?
This simple query, even before one evaluates the interest (is it compelling? or even merely legitimate?), can be a vexing one for students, professors, litigators, and courts. Legislative listing of such interests – – – whether in preambles, legislative history, or litigation – – – provides language but not necessarily meaning.
The above quote is Ruthann Robson’s (Professor of Law & University Distinguished Professor, CUNY School of Law) lead-in from her Constitutional Law Prof Blog post about San Diego law prof Dov Fox’s forthcoming George Washington Law Review article titled Interest Creep [SSRN].
From the abstract:
Judicial review has a blind spot. Doctrinal and scholarly focus on individual rights has crowded out alertness to the way in which legislatures and courts characterize the state interests on the other side of the constitutional ledger. This Article introduces and interrogates a pervasive phenomenon of judicial decisionmaking that I call interest creep. Interest creep is the uncritical expansion of underspecified interests like national security and child protection to capture multiple, distinct sources of government concern. By shielding such concerns from critical judicial appraisal, interest creep erodes the adjudicative duty to provide litigants, lawmakers, and lower courts with clear reasons for its decisions. Worse, interest creep generates incorrect legal outcomes when the discrete concerns that go by the name of a sweeping state interest cannot do the doctrinal work for which that shibboleth is enlisted. Only by disentangling the constellation of concerns that its reliance papers over will decisionmakers be able to assess the force with which those more particular concerns apply within diverse and dynamic contexts.