Michael Halley


A response to Nelson Tebbe & Robert L. Tsai, Constitutional Borrowing, 108 Mich. L. Rev. 462 (2010). Crediting the perception that the Constitution is a poorly cut puzzle whose variously configured pieces don't match, Nelson Tebbe and Robert Tsai propose that the stand-alone parts of freedom and equality can be merged and mutually enlarged through the act of borrowing. They are mistaken. While Thomas Jefferson wrote that ideas may be appropriated without being diminished and so "freely spread from one to another over the globe," the equality and freedom the Constitution addresses as actualities are constrained by a basic, familiar, and inescapable rule of financial accounting. Just as assets and liabilities must be in balance, freedoms are only acquired at the exacting expense of equality; no amount of borrowing can alter the equation. While as a matter of principle we are all equally entitled to be "let alone," this "most comprehensive right . . . the right most valued by civilized men," is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. While "the poorest man in his cottage" and the richest man in his mansion may both "bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown," the amount of privacy they enjoy as a matter of fact is incomparable. The privacy enjoyed by those unable to afford lodgings of any kind and forced to take refuge in their cars is further diminished as a matter of law, while the "homeless" sleeping out of doors and exposed to the elements enjoy no expectation of privacy apart from what they manage to secure in duffle bags. The Court's express rejection of the claim that the "‘need for decent shelter' and the ‘right to retain peaceful possession of one's home' are fundamental interests which are particularly important to the poor"-like its assertion that education is not a "fundamental right"-follows from the proposition that laws "having different effects on the wealthy and the poor" are not unconstitutional, and from the consequence of that proposition: that the freedoms most valued by Americans are for purchase. The wealthier the man, the more unequal the share he can afford.