Frankfurter and Popular Constitutionalism

76 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2013 Last revised: 5 Nov 2013

See all articles by Brad Snyder

Brad Snyder

University of Wisconsin Law School

Date Written: March 15, 2013


This Article reframes the way we think about Justice Frankfurter — not as a Warren Court antihero but as an opponent of judicial supremacy, forerunner of popular constitutionalism, and exemplar for scholars who criticize the Court's Affordable Care Act and other recent decisions as contemptuous of Congress and other elected branches. Frankfurter shared Jefferson's faith in the democratic political process and enlightened public opinion and distrusted courts as historically reactionary institutions that thwarted the popular will and social change. This is the first article to broaden the definition of popular constitutionalism beyond political and social movements and elected officials to include the Supreme Court justices themselves. By arguing that Justices can be popular constitutionalists, this Article links judicial restraint with popular constitutionalism. Frankfurter's judicial restraint stemmed from his belief that the democratic political process was a more enduring, effective, and legitimate method of protecting civil liberties and producing constitutional change. His last opinion, his dissent in Baker v. Carr, warned about the evils of judicial supremacy. Bush v. Gore and Citizens United made his Baker dissent seem prophetic. This Article invites scholars to rethink how Frankfurter's jurisprudence fits into the ongoing debate about the role of the Court and into progressive constitutional theories including popular constitutionalism.

Keywords: Popular Constitutionalism, Felix Frankfurter, Judicial Restraint, Thomas Jefferson, Affordable Care Act, Pam Karlan, Democracy, Disdain

JEL Classification: K41

Suggested Citation

Snyder, Brad, Frankfurter and Popular Constitutionalism (March 15, 2013). 47 UC Davis Law Review 343 (November 2013), Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1221, Available at SSRN:

Brad Snyder (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States
608-262-1015 (Phone)


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

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics