Trumping Dobbs

(2023) University of Illinois Law Review Online 12

10 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2022 Last revised: 28 Feb 2023

See all articles by Phil Lord

Phil Lord

Université de Moncton - Faculty of Law; McGill University - Faculty of Law; York University - Osgoode Hall Law School


This Essay draws upon Canadian constitutional law to analyze the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In his Foreword to the 2018 Harvard Law Review Supreme Court issue, Jamal Greene analogously draws upon Canadian constitutional law to illuminate aspects of U.S. constitutional law we often oversee and take for granted. He argues that rights are construed as “trumps”: they are absolute. Greene contrasts this framework to Canada’s, under which rights are subject to reasonable limitations pursuant to a “proportionality analysis.” This Essay builds upon that work. It argues that proportionality analysis is indeed central to constitutional adjudication in Canada and most other developed countries. The Essay shows how the framework for the protection of reproductive rights set out in Roe v. Wade and modified in Planned Parenthood v. Casey incorporates key aspects of proportionality analysis. It allows for varying limitations to a constitutional right. Because these precedents significantly moved away from the existing framework of constitutional review, and did not acknowledge that they sought to fundamentally change that framework, they were uniquely vulnerable. Unsurprisingly, the Dobbs majority sharply criticizes the balancing of values and goals that defines proportionality analysis as impracticable and inconsistent with U.S. constitutional review. More broadly, these precedents, and the Dobbs opinion, illustrate how U.S. constitutional law lacks the necessary tools to mediate and reconcile conflicting rights – unlike countries which adopt proportionality analysis. Its rigid framework, which many Americans tightly hold on to as a hallmark of democracy and judicial minimalism, amplifies the role of courts in fundamental, charged sociopolitical debates. It is inherently bound to politicize the intervention of courts and undermine their legitimacy.

Suggested Citation

Lord, Phil, Trumping Dobbs. (2023) University of Illinois Law Review Online 12, Available at SSRN: or

Phil Lord (Contact Author)

Université de Moncton - Faculty of Law ( email )

18 Antonine-Maillet Ave
Moncton, NB E1A 3E9


McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal, QC H3A 1W9

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, ON M3J 1P3

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