D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown has long been controversial since her nomination was opposed by many for what were viewed as extreme view as a member of the California Supreme Court. She was finally confirmed in a deal in the Senate that many denounced as a surrender by Democrats. Now Brown has used an opinion to denounce “powerful groups” and courts for limiting “Cowboy capitalism” that she says has been “disarmed” in America.
The diatribe came in Hettinga v. United States, where the court rejected Hettingas that contribution requirements applicable to all milk handlers constituted a bill of attainder and violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. In the opinion below, Brown and conservative colleague David Sentelle wrote to express sympathy with the Hettingas and their “understandable” “sense of ill-usage.” The central point of the concurrence appears to be a desire to express dissatisfaction “with the gap between the rhetoric of free markets and the reality of ubiquitous regulation.” She then added:
“America’s cowboy capitalism was long ago disarmed by a democratic process increasingly dominated by powerful groups with economic interests antithetical to competitors and consumers. And the courts, from which the victims of burdensome regulation sought protection, have been negotiating the terms of surrender since the 1930s.”
The opinion has raised questions of the propriety of such statements in dicta. Opinions are not meant to be opportunities for judges to hold forth on their views of the proper course of political and legal trends. At the time of her nomination, then-Senator Barack Obama took to the floor to join those denouncing Brown:
Justice Brown has shown she is not simply a judge with very strong political views, she is a political activist who happens to be a judge. It is a pretty easy observation to make when you look at her judicial decisions. While some judges tend to favor an activist interpretation of the law and others tend to believe in a restrained interpretation of the law providing great deference to the legislature, Justice Brown tends to favor whatever interpretation leads her to the very same ideological conclusions every single time.
I do not see how this statement falls within any reasonable view of appropriate judicial opinion writing. It is less dicta than diatribe. What do you think?
Here is the opinion: 11-5065-1368692