Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gedicks on the Originalist Roots of Substantive Due Process

Originalist Roots of Substantive Due Process: Higher-Law Constitutionalism and the Fifth Amendment has been posted by Frederick Mark Gedicks, Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School. This short essay for the BYU Law School magazine is based on Gedick's longer article on the same subject. Here's the abstract:
The notion of “substantive” due process originated in Sir Edward Coke’s notion of a “higher-law” constitutionalism that understood natural and customary rights as limits on crown prerogatives and perhaps even parliamentary lawmaking. The American colonies adopted higher-law constitutionalism in their revolutionary struggle, carried it with them through independence and constitutional ratification, and constitutionalized it in the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause.
Substantive due process of law is made textually consistent with the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause by the normative definition of “law” inherited from the classical natural law tradition, which maintained that an unjust law was not really a law. Deprivations of life, liberty, or property effected on the authority of unjust legislative acts did not comply with the law of the land or the due process of law, because regardless of the process such acts afforded, the deprivations they imposed were not accomplished by a true “law.” The classical understanding of law and the substantive understanding of the due process of law that it underwrote are evident in legal dictionaries and in judicial decisions and arguments of counsel during the years immediately before and after ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791. On balance, these authorities show that one widely held public understanding of the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause in the late eighteenth century included judicial protection of unenumerated substantive rights against congressional encroachment.

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