The Demise of the Right-Privilege Distinction in Constitutional Law

27 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2011 Last revised: 30 Dec 2014

See all articles by William W. Van Alstyne

William W. Van Alstyne

Duke University School of Law; William & Mary Law School

Date Written: 1968


The right-privilege distinction, as it appeared in an early statement by Justice Holmes, has long hampered individuals within the public sector in protecting themselves against arbitrary governmental action. In this article Professor Van Alstyne reviews the uses and misuses to which the "privilege" concept has been put and then examines those doctrines whose flanking attacks have gradually eroded its efficacy. But none of these doctrines comes to grips with Holmes' basic idea of a "privilege" to which substantive due process is inapplicable. Applying Holmes' own jurisprudence, the author argues that the concept of "privilege" is today no longer viable, and that the size and power of the governmental role in the public sector requires substantive due process control of the state in all its capacities.

Keywords: right-privilege distinction, public employee, due process

Suggested Citation

Van Alstyne, William W. and Van Alstyne, William W., The Demise of the Right-Privilege Distinction in Constitutional Law (1968). Harvard Law Review, Vol. 81, p. 1439, 1968, William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-136, Available at SSRN:

William W. Van Alstyne (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics