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Bench Memos

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Is Judicial Review of Constitutional Questions Anti-Democratic?



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There have also been various rumblings about the anti-Democratic nature of striking down a popularly enacted law. This line of argument seems to neglect that the Constitution itself was Democratically enacted, and is superior to simple legislative enactments. (Yes, the process wasn’t perfectly Democratic, but neither is our system of passing laws, which includes the non-proportional Senate as well as the anti-Democratic check of Presidential veto.) Consider the following hypo: Angered by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Kelo, the legislatures of two-thirds of the states convene a convention, during which they recommend an amendment clarifying that taking private property for the purpose of transferring said property to private entities in order to enhance tax revenue does not constitute public use. Three fourths of the states ratify the amendment. Congress, in clear violation of the amendment, subsequently proceeds to take Matt’s house to build an outlet mall. Would the Court be acting anti-Democratically by striking down the taking as violative of the constitutional amendment? Does it act anti-Democratically when it enforces other provisions enacted by Constitutional conventions in the several states, such as the Commerce Clause? And even if it were, in some sense, anti-Democratic, does that mean that it is not a legitimate part of our constitutional system? Or is it like the veto, which likewise is intended to serve as a check to unconstitutional legislation (but again does NOT serve as a basis for precluding judicial review)?



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