Federal agencies regularly sail in murky constitutional waters. Established principles of statutory interpretation, however, leave federal courts adrift amid these dangerous shoals. When faced with agency interpretations that raise constitutional doubts, courts are torn. On the one hand, the famous rule of Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. instructs courts to defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of its own statute. On the other, cutting against deference, the longstanding canon of constitutional avoidance counsels courts, when possible, to choose a statutory construction avoiding serious constitutional doubts. Although the Supreme Court eventually resolved this dilemma in favor of the avoidance canon, the Court’s rationale remains somewhat of a mystery. Commentators generally tell a story of policy. This Note offers an alternative textualist account rooted in historical practice.
In Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court reversed course in its First Amendment doctrine, moving away from strict scrutiny protection for religious freedom and towards a more lenient standard akin to a rational basis test. Congress took action in response by enacting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993. In order to provide broad protections for the free exercise of religion and to provide a defense for religious beliefs against generally applicable laws, RFRA restored the pre-Smith compelling interest test. However, an ambiguity in the judicial relief section has given rise to a circuit split. Some circuits have found that RFRA does not provide a defense to religious individuals and organizations in suits brought by a private plaintiff. As a result, RFRA’s ability to provide broad religious protection has been significantly impaired. This paper resolves this circuit split, defending the conclusions in Hankins v. Lyght and finding that RFRA does provide a defense in private citizen suits. In Parts I – III, the paper applies a purely textualist analysis, closely examining RFRA’s text and its drafting history. It concludes that the judicial relief section unambiguously provides a defense in citizen suits. Part IV supplements this conclusion by excavating the legislative history surrounding the religious liberty bills – the 1993 RFRA and the proposed 1999 Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA.) The record is clear that Congress had a shared understanding RLPA would provide a defense in citizen suits. In discussing the merits of the bill, both proponents and opponents cited to cases with private plaintiffs and advanced policy considerations based on the assumption that RLPA would apply in citizen suits.
Beginning in 1985, Delaware’s jurisprudence governing the legality of takeover defenses, i.e., poison pills, has centered around a subtly complex concept—proportionality—as introduced in the seminal case of Unocal Corp. v. Mesa Petroleum Co. Unfortunately, Unocal proportionality review, initially billed as a comparison of the threat posed by a hostile bidder and the board’s defensive response, never evolved into a true balancing of these two elements. The failure of Unocal proportionality review to develop into anything more than a fact-specific inquiry with little precedential value could easily be viewed as one of Delaware corporate law’s greatest disappointments.
In the face of widespread criticism from academic commentators and their frequent calls for doctrinal overhaul in the name of predictability and bright-line rules, this Note argues, however, that the ad hoc quality of Unocal proportionality review, along with other inconsistencies in Delaware corporate law, is entirely appropriate in the context of takeover defense jurisprudence. It reaches this conclusion by likening Delaware’s takeover defense doctrine to federal antitrust’s Rule of Reason, which polices illegal restraints on trade under the Sherman Act.
Using this comparison, this Note presents a novel paradigm for understanding Delaware’s review of defensive measures, positing that the regime’s so-called flaws are actually key components of an effective, antitrust-like mechanism for evaluating directors’ implementation of takeover defenses. In doing so, it will demonstrate not only that Delaware courts’ treatment of Unocal as an ad hoc, effects-based test is a workable and appropriate methodology, but also that Delaware courts are uniquely equipped to employ such a method and can do so without the typical difficulties often attending a case-specific form of review. As a result, this Note offers a unique perspective on the undervalued strength of Delaware’s takeover defense jurisprudence, challenging critics’ repeated calls for reform and providing practitioners with valuable insight into the true underlying goals of the law with which they seek to comply.