Enforcing the Political Constitution
74 Stan. L. Rev. Online 88 (2022)
12 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2022 Last revised: 23 Jun 2022
Date Written: June 22, 2022
This short essay argues that the congruence and proportionality test of City of Boerne v. Flores—which the U.S. Supreme Court applies to laws passed pursuant to Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment—should not apply to federal voting rights legislation. This test is inapplicable because the right to vote, although a judicially protected constitutional right, is also a political right beyond the purview of the courts. The right to vote implicates a number of constitutional provisions that are direct grants of power to Congress, the exercise of which can directly conflict with the notions of judicial supremacy that dominate our legal system.
Pursuant to its obligation to guarantee to every state a republican form of government under Article IV, Section 4 and in reviewing the elections of its members under Article I, Section 5, Congress has made substantive judgments about the scope of the right to vote in ways that are not always in line with judicial pronouncements about what constitutes “appropriate legislation” under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Through these provisions, Congress has constructed its own vision of the substantive contours of the right to vote.
As this essay will show, City of Boerne’s elevation of judicial, rather than congressional, interpretation is illegitimate where the Constitution delegates overlapping and, sometimes, competing authority to Congress to dictate the scope of hybrid political/constitutional rights like the right to vote. Because of the hybrid nature of the right as both constitutional and political, the Court must acknowledge this competing view in assessing the scope of congressional power over elections.
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