Rights Essentialism and Remedial Equilibration

79 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 1999

See all articles by Daryl J. Levinson

Daryl J. Levinson

New York University School of Law; New York University School of Law

Date Written: June 1999


There is no such thing as a constitutional right, at least not in the sense that courts and constitutional theorists routinely assume. A leading strategy employed by constitutional discourse to legitimate and protect the privileged status of constitutional rights is to segregate sharply the superior realm of rights from the inferior realm of remedies. The right/remedy distinction in constitutional law serves to maintain the illusion that rights are defined by courts through a mystical process of identifying "pure" constitutional values without regard to the sorts of functional, fact-specific policy concerns that are relegated to the remedial sphere. This illusion is fundamental to the self-image and perceived legitimacy of constitutionalism and judicial review. In the actual practice of constitutional adjudication, however, the qualitative distinction between rights and remedies blurs, or even dissolves. No less than in contract and property law--where from Holmes to Calabresi & Melamed we have recognized that rights and remedies are functionally interrelated--rights and remedies in constitutional law are interdependent and inextricably intertwined. Drawing on illustrations from disparate areas of constitutional law, this Article develops a conceptual taxonomy of right-remedy relationships. The richer understanding of the types and typicality of right-remedy interactions that emerges potentially has sweeping practical and theoretical implications. In light of this understanding, the Article reconsiders the appropriate division of constitutional authority between courts and the political branches; the notions that constitutional rights can be over- and under-enforced; the debate between "top-down" constitutional theorists like Ronald Dworkin and pragmatist, "bottom-up" critics like Richard Posner and Cass Sunstein; and, most fundamentally, the purposes and legitimacy of judicial review.

Suggested Citation

Levinson, Daryl J. and Levinson, Daryl J., Rights Essentialism and Remedial Equilibration (June 1999). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=155564 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.155564

Daryl J. Levinson (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
United States

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
212-998-6237 (Phone)

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