Boso on “Religious Liberty, Discriminatory Intent, and the Status Quo Constitution”

Luke Boso (U San Francisco) has posted to SSRN his working paper, Religious Liberty, Discriminatory Intent, and the Status Quo Constitution. Here is the abstract:

The Supreme Court shocked the world at the end of its 2021-22 term by issuing landmark decisions ending constitutional protection for abortion rights, expanding gun rights, and significantly weakening what remained of the wall between church and state. The thread uniting these blockbuster cases is originalism — a backwards-looking theory of constitutional interpretation focused on founding-era meaning and intent. The Court has been clear that preserving the status quo and insulating the Constitution from change is originalism’s core function.

Originalism is not the only mechanism by which an increasingly conservative Court has sought to protect traditional social norms and hierarchies from disruption. This Article identifies the discriminatory intent doctrine as another useful tool for fortifying status quos. The Burger and Rehnquist Courts laid the contemporary foundation for discriminatory intent’s manipulation in the equal protection context, effectively shielding many racist and sexist legal structures from constitutional reproach.

Today, discriminatory intent rules are creating radical change in religious liberty jurisprudence. In free exercise claims, the Court has gone out of its way to infer even the possibility of discriminatory intent against Christians when the government seeks compliance with pandemic-era public health measures and LGBTQ-inclusive antidiscrimination laws. In establishment claims, the Court has seemingly abandoned longstanding intent rules prohibiting favoritism or hostility towards religion; instead, the sole relevant question is now whether majoritarian founding-era practices support the government’s religious involvement. Together, these shifting roles for discriminatory intent effectively protect conservative Christian interests from encroaching progressive change, leaving religious minorities and non-believers with diminished constitutional protection.

The full paper is available here.

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