Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Balkin on The Reconstruction Power

The Reconstruction Power is a new paper by Jack M. Balkin, Yale Law School. Here's the abstract:
This essay argues that modern doctrine has not been faithful to the text, history and structure of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. These amendments were designed to give Congress broad powers to protect civil rights and civil liberties; together they form Congress’s Reconstruction Power.

Congress gave itself broad powers because it believed it could not trust the Supreme Court to protect the rights of the freedmen. The Supreme Court soon realized Congress’s fears, not only limiting the scope of the Reconstruction Amendments but also Congress’s powers to enforce them in decisions like United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875) and the Civil Rights Cases 109 U.S. 3 (1883). Due to these early cases, Congress was often forced to use its Commerce Power to protect civil rights. Modern decisions beginning with City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997) and United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000) have compounded these errors.

When we strip away these doctrinal glosses and look at the original meaning and structural purposes underlying the Reconstruction amendments, we will discover that the Reconstruction Power gives Congress all the authority it needs to pass modern civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That was the original point of these amendments, and that should be their proper construction today.
Hat tip: Legal Theory Blog.