Tuesday, July 24, 2012

People v. McKee (Cal. Ct. App. - June 24, 2012)

When you read old cases -- and I mean, really old cases, like from the early 1800s -- you're often struck by how oddness of the reasoning.  This is especially true when the opinion concerns issues that have seen a sea change in the intervening years.

Read a cases about slavery, women, children or the mentally ill from the 1800s and you'll easily see what I mean.  It's not that the reasoning is internally inconsistent.  It's instead that the predicate assumptions, as well as the mode of analysis, is just so obviously antiquated to contemporary, more informed readers.  Yeah, everything the author says is "right," from a certain point of view as expressed by those living in the relevant era.  But, for future readers, the analysis and reasoning is just bizarre.  You sometimes leave those cases thinking:  "How could anyone think that?"  Even though,at the time the opinion was written, the vast majority of everyone thought precisely that.  So it was a "good" opinion for the time, despite the fact that it was (to modern eyes) clearly absurd.

I had these thoughts when I read this opinion by Justice McDonald.  Everything he says is right.  His analysis is spot on to contemporary eyes.

But I have a sneaking suspicion -- based on nothing more than history and intuition -- that we'll at some point view opinions like this one in a very unfavorable way.

I feel confident that our opinions about mental health, and sexually violent offenders, will change over time.  These views have changed a lot over the past century.  I have a strong feeling they'll continue to change.  And that the type of psychological and social analysis displayed here will not survive the test of time.  Or be viewed charitably thereafter.

Which is, again, not to say that the opinion is wrong.  It is what it is.

As with many things, ultimately, history is the final arbiter.