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Is Natural Law Judicially Enforceable? Calder v. Bull

Is Natural Law a viable alternative to Originalism? Professor Steven Calabresi discusses the case of Calder versus Bull in 1798. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase endorsed the Natural Law as a means to decide cases. Justice James Iredell argued that the Natural Law was too vague for a judicial method or standard. Professor Calabresi explains why Justice Iredell’s view ultimately prevailed. https://youtube.com/watch?v=eKVnFWT03VE


There was a very famous debate in 1798 in Calder versus Bull between Justice Samuel Chase and Justice Iredell over whether or not natural law was judicially enforceable. Justice Samuel Chase argued that natural law was judicially enforceable, that it was discernible, enforceable by judges in court, and he gave a number of examples of laws that state legislatures or Congress might pass that could be struck down under natural law. His favorite example of such a law was a law that simply took the property of A and transferred it to B rather than using it for public use and without paying any just compensation to A. Justice Chase was alone in Calder versus Bull in endorsing the use of natural law. Justice Iredell dissented and he specifically disagreed with Chase about traditional enforcement of natural law and what Justice Iredell said is that he believed in natural law and natural rights and he thought they were important, but he didn't think that they were clear enough to be judicially enforceable and he didn't think the Constitution gave the federal courts the power to enforce them. Iredell's ideas won out over time. It's not the job of the court to apply natural law. Supreme Court justices are not political philosophers, and there's no need for them to be political philosophers. There is a need for them to be extremely intelligent, well trained lawyers because that's the skill you need to interpret the original public meaning of legal texts. So I think the natural law alternative to originalism is a flop.

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