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Conclusion

Balance of Legal and Personal Influences on Constitutional Judgments: Reversals and Redefinition of Precedent

In a Tortoiseshell: In her paper, Katja considers the reversal of legal precedent as the result of justices’ personal considerations. She argues that even when Supreme Court justices attempt to separate their judgments from their personal values, personal influence on their decisions is inevitable, for which the reversal of precedent and reconsideration of previous judgments may compensate. The implications of her final product culminate in an exemplary instance of conclusion.

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Excerpt / Katja Stroke-Adolphe

In deciding to reject Adkins, the Court is following what they view to be reasonable. Yet the Court also holds that “[e]ven if the wisdom of the policy be regarded as debatable…still the Legislature is entitled to its judgment,” because the legislative response to a “conviction both as to the presence of the evil and as to the means adapted to check it” cannot be found “arbitrary or capricious.” Hence, that the Legislature might find such a law reasonable, even if the judges did not, is held as evidence for overruling Adkins, following the concept of reasonableness in Holmes’ dissents. Yet this overruling occurs through the union of doctrine and constitutional reasoning. The economic crisis both forced a philosophical rejection of laissez faire and proved the fallacy of Adkins’ and Lochner’s accepting of laissez faire as fact. West Coast Hotel acknowledges the economic crisis as revealing a “compelling consideration”— the impact on the community of the imbalance of power between employer and employee. But the philosophical shift from Adkins, which viewed the minimum wage as an unfair burden on the employer, is evident when the Court states that a minimum wage is justified because “[t]he community is not bound to provide what is in effect a subsidy for unconscionable employers.”

In his dissent, Justice Sutherland’s logic follows Adkins. Furthermore, he contests the reasonableness standard of Holmes and the West Coast Hotel majority, asserting that reasonableness refers only to an individual judge’s mind. Sutherland states: “The check upon the judge is that imposed by his oath of office, by the Constitution, and by his own conscientious and informed convictions.” This conforms to the view of the Supreme Court as representing impersonal supreme law and justice, yet the inclusion of “conscientious and informed convictions” appears contradictory. However, Sutherland rejects the claim that the “only check upon the exercise of the judicial power, when properly invoked, to declare a constitutional right superior to an unconstitutional statute is the judge’s own faculty of self-restraint” as “ill considered,” for he associates self-restraint with “will”, not “judgment”. All the checks upon judges that Sutherland mentions belong to the domain of judgment, thus the convictions he refers to must pertain to a true interpretation of the Constitution, as personal convictions belong to the domain of will. Sutherland’s comment on self-restraint is a criticism of the concept that personal motivations play an inherent role in constitutional decisions. Yet convictions, especially about ambiguous texts, cannot be impersonal. A sign of an exemplary judge may be his capacity to restrain himself from inserting biases and philosophies into judgments, as with Harlan in Plessy.

Sutherland appears to view the majority’s decision as a break with judicial integrity, stating “the meaning of the Constitution does not change with the ebb and flow of economic events.” He implies that the Court’s decision is an “amendment under the guise of interpretation,” remarking that “to miss the difference” between amendment and interpretation is “to miss all that the phrase ‘supreme law of the land’ stands for and to convert what was intended as inescapable and enduring mandates into mere moral reflections.” Moreover, in stating that the three departments of government cannot be agents of each other, he insinuates that the Court, in overruling Adkins, is acting as the agent of the Executive and Congress rather than the Constitution, likely alluding to the growing power of the Executive under Roosevelt. Yet Sutherland’s criticism of the West Coast Hotel majority is parallel to Holmes’ claims in Lochner and Adkins, for both are claiming that the majority was influenced by improper concerns—doctrine, philosophy, or views on what signifies a public good.

The Casey plurality opinion was written by Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter, all of whom contributed to the overruling of Booth v. Maryland by Payne v. Tennessee, an overruling influenced by the “victim’s rights” movement, with the only significant change since Booth arguably being the membership of the court. Regardless of whether Payne can be justified by the standards in Casey, the Booth line of cases centers on the ambiguous meaning of “cruel and unusual,” focusing on what is necessary for the death penalty to not be “cruel”. Yet some have argued that the death penalty is inherently  “cruel and unusual.” As problematic as are the ambiguities of the Constitution, they are essential. The authors of the Constitution had their own prejudices, and the passages that deal with specifics rather than general principles, such as those dealing with slavery prior to the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments, may prove most problematic to constitutional interpretation, by creating an absolute separation between concepts of morality and law. For as dangerous as the intrusion of doctrine into judgment may be, the separation may be just as harmful, and a rigid constitution would likely lead to many reprehensible judgments, for such a constitution could not adapt to the changes since its adoption. The Constitution was conceived by a certain group at a particular moment in time, but because it is interpreted in a continually shifting manner by precedent, and its meaning redefined, the Constitution becomes the product of the minds of all the justices who made judgments upon what is constitutional.


Author Commentary / Katja Stroke-Adolphe

The concept of my paper originated in reading the cases Booth v. Maryland and Payne v. Tennessee for the course “Crime and Punishment,” taught by Professor Brooks. The course focused on the connections between literature and law, and the overruling of Booth in Payne led me to consider to what extent precedent was a concrete and powerful part of law, only broken under extreme circumstances, or, instead, a narrative tool which could be shifted or dismissed based on the personal views of members of the court. This initial question led Professor Brooks to recommend looking at the case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which outlines standards for evaluating reversals of precedent. Casey proved the starting point for looking at various reversals of precedent.

Most important in writing this paper was the collection and careful analysis of sources. Not all my analyses ended up in the paper, and the revision process consisted of cutting the paper’s length in half, leaving the most essential points for the paper’s argument. My research eventually focused on two lines of cases: from Lochner v. New York to West Coast Hotel v. Parrish and from Plessy v. Ferguson to Brown v. Board of Education. Reading these lines of cases led me to analyze the influence of personal elements in major reversals of precedent, and thereby see both the value and the threat that such elements may pose. The basic premise of my paper was that new cases, in their use of precedent, or breaking of precedent, redefine constitutional meanings. By tracing the manner in which constitutional meanings were redefined in major reversals of precedent, I hoped to reveal the dichotomy between constitutional elements as supreme law or judgment, as well as gaps in constitutional clarity which enable the intrusion of human moral principles, prejudices, and biases.

The paragraphs preceding this excerpt begin with my analysis of the Lochner line of cases, with Adkins, which followed the precedent of Lochner, and was overruled in West Coast Hotel. I analyze the ways that the opinions and dissents of those cases dealt with precedent cases, personal motivations, philosophies, reasonableness standards, and concepts of supreme law. I conclude that the presence of personal elements is both inherent and essential to constitutional law jurisprudence, despite how damaging the influence of bias or prejudice has often been. In these cases, the worst decisions were driven by personal motives, biases, or philosophies, but the greatest reversals also were driven by changes in what people believed to be right, or moral, and dissents often had a personal quality, too. There have been justices of the Supreme Court who fought to separate their judgments from personal stances, and that is admirable, and a subject I address in the paper outside of this excerpt. But even with the greatest justices, personal influences are to some extent unavoidable, and this is compensated for by constant reinterpretation.


Editor Commentary / Rosamond van Wingerden

In papers that incorporate many different sources and an extensive cast of characters, summarizing your argument in a concise but comprehensive conclusion can be the hardest part. Nonetheless, that’s what Katja accomplishes in this excerpt. Early on in her paper, Katja introduces her reader to multiple court cases within two legal areas to illustrate the establishment and subsequent reversal of legal precedent as the result of the personal and legal considerations of the justices who supported or dissented from each decision. Throughout the essay, she gives a detailed analysis of each example but always maintains the clarity of her paper by orienting each source and highlighting its relevance to her argument. In her conclusion, Katja skillfully draws together all her evidence to make a broader claim with implications beyond the examples of constitutional judgment she has given.

By avoiding excessive summary in her conclusion and focusing on the more general trend she has identified through her sources, Katja is able to look beyond the two cases of the influence of personal beliefs on the reversal of legal precedent that she has considered. She now presents a broader claim that connects her examples of constitutional judgment both to the framing of the Constitution and to possibilities for its future interpretation, making the overarching argument that “as dangerous as the intrusion of doctrine into judgment may be, the separation may be just as harmful, and a rigid constitution would likely lead to many reprehensible judgments, for such a constitution could not adapt to the changes since its adoption.” Katja’s argument for the benefits of allowing personal morals to intrude on legal judgment may seem counterintuitive, but by preparing her conclusion with ample evidence and expert analysis throughout the paper, she makes a compelling case.


Conclusion, Spring 2018

Donelle Woolford: The Politics of Appropriative Parafiction – An Analysis of Craftsmanship and Collaborative Structure

In a Tortoiseshell: In this junior paper, Heather explores the multifaceted components of the Donelle Woolford project to interrogate the implications of race, authorship and ownership, and performance on the viewer’s experience of the artworks. This excerpt demonstrates a sophisticated, antithetical approach to effectively concluding a long research paper by wrapping up previous analyses and integrating a new theoretical concept.

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Conclusion

The Placebo Effect and Depression: Who Is Susceptible and How Does It Work?

In a Tortoiseshell: In this excerpt of Saisai Chen’s “The Placebo Effect and Depression: Who is Susceptible and How Does it Work?,” we can see the defining characteristics of the conclusion of a science paper. By making the esoteric nature of a science paper accessible for the lay audience, Chen’s paper not only summarizes the main points of her paper and offers implications, but expands the potential reach of the paper as well.  Continue reading

Conclusion

Cast List: Social Performativity within Hamlet and Consequent Dramatic Abilities of the Play

In a Tortoiseshell: This excerpt from Victoria Gruenberg’s essay, “Cast List,” concerns the layers of performance in Hamlet and the implications for both the performers and the audience when experiencing the show. Because the essay deftly situates the complicated audience-performer relationships in the play and considers the broader questions Hamlet asks of metatheater, we believe this essay demonstrates the characteristics of a strong conclusion Continue reading

Spring 2015

Conclusion

“You know a good conclusion when you see it.” Such is the sentiment of many professors, but the ambiguity of this statement makes the conclusion an aspect of academic writing that students tend to agonize over. Unlike the often formulaic introduction, the structure of the conclusion can vary greatly depending on the needs of the essay, making the students’ task quite challenging. What can students, anxious to wrap up their papers and move on with their lives, do?

It doesn’t help that students may be inclined to rely on a formula based on the five-paragraph essay, a trope of high school writing. Drawn on the chalkboard as an upside-down triangle (the introduction), three boxes (the body paragraphs) and a right-side-up triangle (the conclusion), the five-paragraph essay is constraining, but it sets students in the right direction and gives them preconfigured, polygonal molds from which they might eventually break free, in a cataclysmic event of great power and awesomeness.

To understand the conclusion of the five-paragraph essay, it’s necessary to know what the introduction’s upside-down triangle symbolizes. The introduction’s “triangle” starts off with a broad hook (the long edge of the triangle), and the triangle narrows as it explores background on the subject. It culminates in the sharp, precise thesis (the triangle’s point). The five-paragraph essay’s conclusion is a reflection of this upside-down triangle: starting off with a slight rephrasing of the thesis (the triangle’s point), broadening as it summarizes the larger points of the argument, and ending with a conclusion so broad that it considers implications to the “wider world.” Incidentally, this sentence often starts with that unfortunate turn of phrase—“in conclusion.”

While the five-paragraph essay formula is effective in getting students to start thinking about conclusions, it leaves much room for development. The idea of introducing an argument’s implications is the vital component of any conclusion, regardless of the discipline. Thus, moves to address implications for the paper are important even if they are initially, and sometimes clumsily, vague in their redefinition of, say, the synergy of the rhythmic layout of the Bayeux Tapestry.

Though the conclusion of a humanities paper or the discussion of a lab report may seem to need entirely different approaches, both have some uniting characteristics. A strong conclusion takes the paper’s argument in a new direction without steering it off course. It sails through the Strait of Magellan and witnesses fertile land on the other side—okay, we’ve had enough metaphors. This preponderance of cosmic implication is what writers struggle with—how to leave the reader with just the right amount of food for thought (instead of inadvertently opening up a can of worms).

Critically, the conclusion should consider the consequences of argument, the end result and key takeaway from the paper. It should provide the answer to the “so-what” questions: Why did we just read this paper? What are we getting out of this? Why should we care?

The excerpts featured in this section answer these questions and do so through literary and scientific analysis, respectively. In Victoria Gruenberg’s conclusion for “Cast List: Social Performativity within Hamlet and Consequent Dramatic Abilities of the Play,” she goes beyond the critique of Shakespeare’s Hamlet as metatheatrical to argue that Hamlet is a work of social performance, broadening the performativity of Hamlet to include its audience. Victoria’s piece is notable in that it expands the discussion of Hamlet in a method that seamlessly builds upon her analysis into a crowning conclusion with strong implications for future Hamlet analysis. Moreover, she motivates her conclusion through the “subtler hints at the performativity of the moment” – propelling the paper to its eloquent conclusion.

On the other side of the academic spectrum lies the excerpt from Saisai Chen’s scientific paper, “The Placebo Effect and Depression: Who is Susceptible and How Does it Work?” The paper creates a final conversation between the author and her sources in a way that neatly revisits the thesis and motive while leaving room for future research. In particular, Saisai’s paper cautions the limitations of the studies, citing the Khan et al. study’s 99% white population as a cause for skepticism, while offering the cautious result that the placebo effect might have a “synergistic effect” when a patient’s “expectations, past experiences with medication, and neuroanatomical features” are taken into account. In a science paper, a precise and measured conclusion is often a strong one.

Our editorial team hopes the two excerpts will show how strategies in the conclusion from literature and science perspectives are often in common with each other, especially when one considers their deviation and elevation from the conclusion of the polygonal, formulaic five-paragraph essay.

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