Are all governments extreme? A reply to Ilya

June 26

This latest exchange with Ilya feels so old-school-VC that I almost want to respond at volokh.blogspot.com. Failing that, here’s a quick reply:

I suspect our disagreement rests in large part on what we mean by “extreme.” My sense is that those in the legal community normally refer to a legal position as “extreme” when it is an outlier. Litigation is a repeat business, and governments are repeat players. Some positions are expected; others are not. We normally refer to a legal position as “extreme” when the litigant has taken an unusual position that goes way beyond what the repeat-player litigant would be expected to take. That’s my sense of the linguistic practice, at least. And that’s the way I’m using the word.

My sense is that Ilya is using “extreme” in a different sense. If I’m reading Ilya correctly, he’s using “extreme” to mean something like “profoundly incorrect.” From that perspective, the government takes an extreme position whenever it takes a position that really should be rejected. A 9-0 defeat for the government is telling because it shows that all the Justices actually did reject it. Unanimity reflects merit, or lack thereof, and a lack of merit is proof of extremity.

Perhaps I misunderstand Ilya, and if so my apologies. But I wonder if our disagreement boils down to definitions more than substance.

Orin Kerr is the Fred C. Stevenson Research Professor at The George Washington University Law School, where he has taught since 2001. He teaches and writes in the area of criminal procedure and computer crime law.
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