The Wages of Crying Judicial Restraint
10 Pages Posted: 20 Jun 2014
Date Written: 2013
Five Justices voted to affirm the proposition that the Constitution creates a government of limited and enumerated powers and that the courts will enforce those limits. To understand why this victory was possible, it is important to understand that there are not just two versions of federalism, pre‐New Deal and post‐New Deal. There is also a third version. The failure to recognize the third version goes a long way to explain why most of my academic colleagues predicted that the right would have no chance to prevail in our constitutional challenge to the individual insurance mandate.
The first version of federalism is the pre‐New Deal version. This version affirms that the Constitution established a national government of limited and enumerated powers, that those powers should be interpreted according to their original meaning, and that much of what the federal government tried to do before the New Deal, and did during the New Deal and after, is unconstitutional.
The post‐New Deal vision of federalism has been interpreted by progressives, quite beyond what the Court has actually said, as repudiating the idea that the Constitution enumerates certain limited congressional powers and that these limits are to be enforced by the courts. This progressive vision of the post‐ New Deal federalism essentially says that Congress has the plenary power to legislate as it will with respect to the national economy.9 Put another way, the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses combine to create a “National Problems Power” vested in Congress.
Because most law professors held this vision of the New Deal, it came as quite a shock to them when the Rehnquist Court established the New Federalism. The New Federalism established the proposition that there were limits that were compelled by what Chief Justice Rehnquist referred to as “first principles” of constitutional government. That these limits would be enforced by the Court seemingly rejected and repudiated the progressive vision of the post‐New Deal constitutionalism that, up to that point, had seemed orthodoxy.
Keywords: federalism, judicial restraint, Rehnquist Court, William Rehnquist, constitutional law
JEL Classification: K00, K30, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation