Document Type


Publication Date



The invention in the late twentieth century of what I call weak-form systems of judicial review provides us with the chance to see in a new light some traditional debates within U.S. constitutional law and theory, which are predicated on the fact that the United States has strong-form judicial review. Strong- and weak-form systems operate on the level of constitutional design, in the sense that their characteristics are specified in constitutional documents or in deep-rooted constitutional traditions. After sketching the differences between strong- and weak-form systems, I turn to design features that operate at the next lower level. Here legislatures or courts specify whether their enactments or decisions will receive strong- or weak-form treatment. I examine examples of legislative allocations of issues to strong- and weak-form review and identify some practical and conceptual problems with such allocations. Then I examine judicial allocations - of the courts' own decisions - to strong- or weak-form categories. Here I consider Thayerian judicial review and what Professor Dan Coenen has called semisubstantive doctrines as examples of judicial choices to give their decisions weak-form effects. My conclusion is that these allocation strategies reproduce within strong- and weak-form systems the issues that arise on the level of constitutional design. Weak-form systems and allocation strategies may seem to alleviate some difficulties associated with strong-form systems in constitutional democracies. My analysis suggests that those difficulties may persist even when alternatives to strong-form judicial review are adopted.


Reprinted from Michigan Law Review, August 2003, Vol. 101, No. 8. Copyright 2003 by Mark V. Tushnet.

Publication Citation

101 Mich. L. Rev. 2781-2802 (2003)