The State as Witness: Windsor, Shelby County, and Judicial Distrust of the Legislative Record

79 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2015 Last revised: 29 Jan 2015

See all articles by Bertrall L. Ross

Bertrall L. Ross

University of California, Berkeley School of Law; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Date Written: January 3, 2015

Abstract

More than ever, the constitutionality of laws turns on judicial review of an underlying factual record, assembled by lawmakers. Some scholars have suggested that by requiring extensive records, the Supreme Court is treating lawmakers like administrative agencies. The assumption underlying this metaphor is that if the state puts forth enough evidence in the record to support the law, its action will survive constitutional scrutiny. What scholars have overlooked, however, is that the Court is increasingly questioning the credibility of the record itself. Even in cases where the state produces adequate evidence to support its action, the Court sometimes invalidates the law because it does not believe the state’s facts. In these cases, the Court treats the state like a witness in its own trial, subjecting the state’s record and the conclusions drawn from it to rigorous cross-examination and second-guessing.

In this “credibility-questioning” review of the record, the Court appears to be animated by an implicit judgment about the operation of the political process. When Justices consider the political process to have functioned properly, they treat the state as a good faith actor and merely check the adequacy of its evidence in the record. But when Justices suspect that the democratic process has malfunctioned because opponents of the law were too politically weak or indifferent to challenge distortions in the record, they treat the state as a witness, suspecting bias in its factual determinations supporting the law.

In this Article, I both support and critique this new form of review. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I argue courts should engage in credibility-questioning review of the record when the political process has malfunctioned. Public choice and pluralist defect theory imply that the record supporting a law is more likely to be distorted in contexts of democratic malfunction. But for reasons of institutional legitimacy and separation of powers, I argue courts should limit credibility-questioning review to contexts where there is actual proof of democratic malfunction.

Keywords: Judicial review, legal theory, separation of powers, public choice theory, pluralism, Equal Protection Clause, Congressional Enforcement Power, strict scrutiny review, rational basis review, constitutional law

Suggested Citation

Ross, Bertrall LeNarado, The State as Witness: Windsor, Shelby County, and Judicial Distrust of the Legislative Record (January 3, 2015). New York University Law Review, Vol. 89, p. 2027, December 2014; UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper No. 2544533. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2544533

Bertrall LeNarado Ross (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
510-643-5788 (Phone)

University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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