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Freedom of association, as I understand it, refers to the liberty a person possesses to enter into relationships with others—for any and all purposes, for a momentary or long-term duration, by contract, consent, or acquiescence. It likewise refers to the liberty to refuse to enter into such relationships or to terminate them when not otherwise compelled by one's voluntary assumption of an obligation to maintain the relationship. Freedom of association thus is a quite capacious liberty.
I am going to approach the topic of freedom of association by attempting to illustrate what its denial would look like in each of several domains. I shall then ask why a government might seek to deny it and then, in the article's final section, on what grounds such a denial would violate the rights with respect to freedom of association of those affected.
Though most legal and labor historians have depicted an American labor movement that suffered from legal disabilities, American law has never denied organized labor's freedom of association. Quite the contrary, unions have always enjoyed at least some favoritism in the law, and this status provided the essential element to their success and power. But, even during the heyday of union power (1930–47), organized labor never succeeded in gaining all of the privileges that it sought, not enough to stem its current (private-sector) decline back to historically normal levels. This article provides a synoptic overview and reinterpretation of the development of American labor law.
In recent years, the constitutional freedom of association has assumed a relatively low profile. Today, the most extended discussions of the right consider it as a second-order countervailing claim in civil rights cases involving questions of identity and the right to exclude. This article provides a brief overview of the right at a time when it was one of the most widely discussed, first-order constitutional rights, and when those discussions centered not on the right to exclude but on the question of “guilt by association.” The article provides a sampling of the way that right was considered in the immediate post-World War Two years in the writings of some of the era's most prominent civil libertarian thinkers – Leo Pfeffer, Milton Konvitz, Robert Cushman, Henry Steele Commager, Zechariah Chafee, Jr., and Sidney Hook. These writings demonstrate that doctrinal development concerning the right was driven by its implication in two of the major political issues of the day: domestic security at the height of the Cold War and civil rights. The article concludes by arguing that, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the ongoing fight against terrorism, free association questions are likely to assume renewed prominence. It argues further that, in a contemporary context, those thinking about the most pressing freedom of association questions would profit by looking less to the more recent discussions of the right as a matter of the right to exclude, and more to the highly-relevant discussions of “guilt by association” by the currently less well known mid-century civil libertarians.
The idea of a constitutional freedom of association was embraced by the U.S. Supreme Court in the mid-twentieth century as implicit in the First Amendment. Although initially endorsed by the Court as a fundamental freedom that was necessarily entwined with the freedom of speech when confronted with cases in the 1930s and 1940s of local government officials cracking down on speakers and assemblies discussing strikes and labor unions, the justices were far more divided and skeptical of freedom of association claims in cases from the mid-1940s through the early 1960s when state and national government officials were pursuing a variety of anticommunist measures. This article examines the early jurisprudential development of the constitutional freedom of association and its grounding in the First Amendment, and suggests some of the limits that the notion always carried with it. Politics and jurisprudence combined to limit its applicability in the anticommunism cases.
In this article, Professors Wolff and Koppelman offer a critical analysis of the free speech claims that were asserted by the law schools and law faculty that sought to challenge the Solomon Amendment. Solomon is a federal statute that requires law schools to grant full and equal access to military recruiters during the student interview season. The military discriminates against gay men and lesbians under its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and the law professors claimed a right to exclude the military under the First Amendment doctrine of “expressive association,” arguing that the presence of discriminatory recruiters would interfere with the ability of faculty to express their own message of inclusion toward their gay students. Those claims were ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court in Rumsfeld v. FAIR. Wolff and Koppelman argue that the law professors' litigation efforts, though well intentioned, were deeply misguided, seeking to extend a recent and aberrational decision in the law of expressive association to unsustainable lengths and, in the process, offering a characterization of the manner in which faculty engage in their own expression that is inconsistent with the ideals that should govern institutions of higher learning.
This article defends the classical liberal view of human interactions that gives strong protection to associational freedom except in cases that involve the use of force or fraud or the exercise of monopoly power. That conception is at war with the modern antidiscrimination or human rights laws that operate in competitive markets in such vital areas as employment and housing, with respect to matters of race, sex, age, and increasingly, disability. The article further argues that using the “human rights” label to boost the moral case for antidiscrimination laws gets matters exactly backwards, given that any program of forced association on one side of a status relationship (employer, not employee; landlord, not tenant) is inconsistent with any universal norm governing all individuals regardless of role in all associative arrangements. The articled also discusses the tensions that arise under current Supreme Court law, which protects associational freedom arising out of expressive activities (as in cases involving the NAACP or the Boy Scouts), but refuses to extend that protection to other forms of association, such as those involving persons with disabilities. The great vice of all these arrangements is that they cannot guarantee the stability of mandated win/lose relationships. The article further argues that a strong social consensus against discrimination is insufficient reason to coerce dissenters, given that holders of the dominant position can run their operations as they see fit even if others do otherwise. It closes with a short model human rights statute drafted in the classical liberal tradition that avoids the awkward line drawing and balancing that give rise to modern bureaucracies to enforce modern antidiscrimination laws.
This paper seeks to examine two conflicting strands in the United States Supreme Court's treatment of “freedom of association,” by exploring some aspects of the historical development of the doctrine. It suggests that there are two conceptions of “freedom of association,” an older, traditional one, that eschews forcing odious contact on members of associations, and a newer one which privileges antidiscrimination doctrines over “freedom from association.” These two conceptions still exist on the Court, resulting in irreconcilable decisions such as those permitting the Boy Scouts to exclude gay scoutmasters, but forcing the Jaycees to accept women. The preference of one conception over the other is also evident in the work of different scholars, whose doctrinal approaches are similarly irreconcilable. The Supreme Court has explained the discontinuities in the doctrine by seeking to characterize it in terms of the First Amendment's “freedom of speech” clause, but the paper argues that it makes more sense, in the context of these two cases, to regard them as related to the First Amendment's “freedom of religion” clauses.
Individuals care deeply about with whom they associate and on what terms. A liberty to avoid entanglement in the disfavored designs of others is counterposed by an entitlement not to be excluded from valued modes of activity. These interests generate not one but two freedoms of association, the former negative and the latter positive. Often they conflict. This essay begins by setting out several respects in which negative free association is crucial to a liberal order and then examines several pleas for positive association, at least one of which is judged to be compelling. Because the two freedoms of association are in conspicuous tension, the essay concludes with strategies for reconciling their competing claims.
This essay interprets John Locke's teachings about private societies, or free private associations. The essay proceeds by interpreting Locke's mature writings on ethics, politics, and philosophy, and then by illustrating Locke's teachings as they apply to two contemporary problems in associational freedom. Although Locke wrote about private societies primarily in the course of arguing for religious toleration, throughout his mature corpus he develops an internally consistent general theory of associational freedom. At first glance, Locke seems to suggest that all citizens are entitled to associate for any end of their choosing, to control admission into and expulsion from their membership, and to enforce their own internal rules of governance. However, Locke qualifies this broad right to bar societies from organizing around ends inconsistent with the minimal moral and political conditions of liberalism. Ultimately, Locke suggests, citizens deserve a broad right of private society only to the extent that they are well enough formed by their regime and its private institutions to be capable of governing themselves in both private and public life.
In contrast with contemporary practice, Locke's justification is broader in some respects and narrower in others. The essay illustrates the implications by considering how Locke's teachings justify limiting the scope of anti-discrimination laws and enlarging the scope of government efforts to dissolve seditious associations.
Freedom of association holds an uneasy place in the pantheon of liberal freedoms. Whereas freedom of association and the abundant plurality of groups that accompany it have been embraced by modern and contemporary liberals, this was not always the case. Unlike more canonical freedoms of speech, press, property, petition, assembly, and religious conscience, the freedom of association was rarely extolled by classical liberal thinkers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Indeed Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Adam Smith, and others seem to have regarded freedom of association with some trepidation because of the violent, irrational, and factional behavior of groups. This chapter illuminates these anti-associational assumptions in the writings of James Madison. Although Madison famously deplored political associations as sources of faction and civil dissension, he differed from other members of the Founding generation in his willingness to defend associational freedom. Madison's writings also shed light on the unenumerated status of the freedom of association in American constitutional law.
In the United States, the debate on civil associations has coincided with the revival of interest in the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, particularly Democracy in America (1835; 1840) in which he praised the Americans' propensity to form civil and political associations. Tocqueville regarded these associations as laboratories of democracy that teach citizens the art of being free and give them the opportunity to pursue their own interests in concert with others. Tocqueville's views on political and civil associations cannot be properly understood unless we also take into account the larger intellectual and political background of his native France. The main sections of this essay examine Tocqueville's analysis of civil and political associations in America. Special attention is paid to the strong relationship between democracy and civil and political associations and the effects that they have on promoting democratic citizenship, civility, and self-government.
The Rawlsian texts appear not to be consistent with regard to the status of the right of freedom of association. Interestingly, Rawls's early work omits mention of freedom of association as among the basic liberties, but in his later work he explicitly includes freedom of association as among the basic liberties. However, freedom of association would appear to have an economic component as well (e.g., the right to form a firm). If one turns to such “private ordering” (e.g., contract, partnership, and corporate law), we find a similar ambiguity in the Rawlsian texts, as well as sharp divisions in the contemporary literature on Rawlsianism. This ambiguity has engendered widespread confusion over the scope of the two principles of justice—leading to the contemporary dispute over the breadth of what Rawls calls the “basic structure” and the question of whether the principles of justice are properly understood to govern private ordering. There is significant disagreement over the breadth of Rawls's basic structure—one aspect is whether the principles of justice apply to the private law. In a controversial passage in Political Liberalism Rawls addresses this question. This passage has, however, led commentators to reach divergent conclusions. We argue that this disagreement is explained by an instructive confusion in the passage over the distinction between what we characterize as “pre-institutional” and “post-institutional” freedom (vis-á-vis contract and property). The passage, we argue, illicitly shifts from invoking the post-institutional sense of “freedom” to the pre-institutional sense, thereby causing significant though understandable disagreement. Rawls's lapse into the pre-institutional conception of “freedom” provides interpretive grounds for the narrow understanding of the basic structure. If Rawls, however, had invoked the sense of “freedom” to which he is entitled at this stage of his theory—the post-institutional conception—such disagreement need not have arisen.