Though it is sometimes easy to forget, constitutional cases have real-world consequences for the lives of real people. When judges abdicate their responsibilities, the consequences for individuals are frequently dire—homes and livelihoods are destroyed, voices are censored, and victims are left with no meaningful recourse. But the results of judicial engagement are equally important. When judges properly engage with the facts and the law of each case, there are direct benefits for individual rights—and a striking absence of the sorts of dire consequences often promised by the proponents of judicial abdication.
Meadows v. Odom
CONTEXT: Sandy Meadows wanted nothing more than to earn a living doing the one thing she both loved and did best: arrange and sell flowers. And had she lived anywhere else besides Louisiana, that would have been no problem. But Louisiana law said that anyone who creates and sells floral arrangements must have a license from the state. And in order to get that license, Sandy would have to pass a highly subjective licensing exam that would be graded by her own future competitors—existing state-licensed florists. The result of this system was predictable—licensed florists used the exam (which had a pass rate of 33 percent when IJ first challenged the law) to keep competition low and prices high.
In a classic case of judicial abdication, a federal trial court actually upheld this law on the grounds that the licensing exam (which literally involved graders’ judging floral arrangements on qualities like “symmetry”) might protect the public from infected dirt! In accepting the state’s laughably implausible justifications for the law, the trial court simply ignored the evidence (which showed, among other things, that there was nothing on the florist licensing exam about infected dirt). Accepting at face value implausible and insincere justifications for Louisiana’s decision, alone among the states, to license florists—when the true purpose of the law is so plain—is a glaring example of judicial abdication.
CONSEQUENCE: Although this particular licensing regime was eventually amended in response to a later lawsuit by the Institute for Justice, Sandy, who was fired from her job in the floral department of an Albertson’s grocery store when the state objected to her not having a florist license, never got to see that day. She died, alone, unemployed, and in poverty, because the courts would not meaningfully protect her right to earn an honest living.