Why We Need More Judicial Activism
Constitutionalism, Executive Power, and Popular Enlightenment, 2014 Forthcoming
21 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2013
Date Written: February 6, 2013
Too much of a good thing can be bad, and democracy is no exception. In the United States, the antidote to what the drafters of the Constitution called “the excess of democracy” is judicial review. Lately, however, judicial review has come under fire. Many on both sides of the political aisle accuse the Supreme Court of being overly activist and insufficiently deferential to the elected representatives of the people. I argue in this essay that criticizing the Court for its activism is exactly backwards: We need more judicial activism, not less. Courts engaging in judicial review are bound to err on one side or the other from time to time. It is much better for the health of our constitutional democracy if they err on the side of activism, striking down too many laws rather than too few. An examination of both constitutional theory and our own judicial history shows that too little activism produces worse consequences than does too much. If we cannot assure that the judges tread the perfect middle ground (and we cannot), it is better to have an overly aggressive judiciary than an overly restrained one.
Keywords: judicial review, judges, activism, popular constitutionalism
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