This Article is the first of a two-part series on the vagueness doctrine. The objective of this first step is to situate the well-known Lambert case within that doctrine. Lambert v. California is a fifty-seven year-old chestnut involving a Douglas-Frankfurter debate in terms that can charitably be called obscure. Many have taken the case to involve, at bottom, a notice principle requiring what this Article calls socialization—the idea that to be fair the criminal law should emit warning signals that will alert the conscience of the average citizen to potential illegality. The Article explores the consequences of elevating that idea to a freestanding constitutional principle, and rejects that conception of the case because it would insert the Constitution too far into ordinary criminal law doctrine. Instead, the Article concludes, even though Lambert involved an ordinance whose language was perfectly clear, the case should be regarded as turning on core vagueness principles. When thought of in this manner, moreover, it can be taken as a partial, if not complete, elucidation of the “fair notice” branch of that doctrine. The second Article in the series will integrate this insight into a more complete view of vagueness itself.
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