'States of the Same Nature': Bounded Variation in Subfederal Constitutionalism

DUAL ENFORCEMENT OF CONSTITUTIONAL NORMS: NEW FRONTIERS OF STATE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, James A. Gardner and Jim Rossi, eds., Oxford University Press, 2010

22 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2009 Last revised: 19 Aug 2009

See all articles by Jacob T. Levy

Jacob T. Levy

McGill University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: March 8, 2009

Abstract

"That the federal constitution should be composed of states of the same nature, above all of republican States," Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws.

This paper (forthcoming in Dual Enforcement of Constitutional Norms: New Frontiers of State Constitutional Law, edited by James A. Gardner and Jim Rossi, Oxford University Press, 2010) offers a defense of the bounded variation in state- or provincial-level constitutionalism within a federation. The extreme positions are the traditionally easy normative ones: there's no reason for state-to-state variation in fundamental questions of constitutional value (because once we know what justice demands, it demands it the same everywhere), or the several states' sovereign peoples may enact any old rules they want, because democratic positivism trumps liberal justice. On the second model, states may be constitutionally constrained from the outside, by the federal courts enforcing the federal constitutions, but as a domestic matter their substantive variation could be unbounded. I don't deny that one or the other of these might accurately describe the legal situation in one or another federation. But I will argue that bounded variation is normatively preferable, not just as a middle way but as the right way to attain the benefits of a federal system. And there are at least some good reasons for internalizing the at least some of the boundaries within the constitutionalism and jurisprudence of each state. Constitutions are not social contracts, either of the positivist or the realist sort; and the hybrid constitutionalism of a federal order can't be understood just with reference to founding or with reference to moral truth. It seems to me that this leaves us in the domain of non-dispositive reason-giving and argument about the scope for constitutional variation. It typically does not count as much intellectual progress to say that answers will lie at some indeterminate point in the middle. But the claims of federal supremacy and of state sovereignty have been such that the middle has sometimes seemed squeezed out; there has been a perceived need to resolve the logic of state constitutionalism to a greater degree than the nature of the problem permits.

Keywords: federalism, constitutional interpretation, constitutional theory

Suggested Citation

Levy, Jacob T., 'States of the Same Nature': Bounded Variation in Subfederal Constitutionalism (March 8, 2009). DUAL ENFORCEMENT OF CONSTITUTIONAL NORMS: NEW FRONTIERS OF STATE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, James A. Gardner and Jim Rossi, eds., Oxford University Press, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1355745

Jacob T. Levy (Contact Author)

McGill University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Montreal, Quebec H3A 1G5
Canada

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