“Due process of law” is arguably the most controversial and frequently-litigated phrase in the American Constitution. Although the dominant originalist view has long been that Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process of Law Clauses are solely “process” guarantees and don’t constrain the “substance” of legislation at all, originalist scholars have in recent years made fresh inquiries into the historical evidence and concluded that there’s a weighty case for some form of substantive due process. In this Article, we review and critique these findings employing our theory of good-faith originalist interpretation and construction.
We begin by investigating the “letter” of the Due Process of Law Clauses — that is, the original meaning of their texts. Next, to develop doctrine by which this meaning can be implemented, we identify the clauses’ original function — their “spirit” — of barring arbitrary exercises of power over individuals that rest upon mere will rather than constitutionally proper reasons. We contend that the original letter and spirit of the “due process of law” in both clauses requires federal and state legislators to exercise their discretionary powers in good faith by enacting legislation that is actually calculated to achieve constitutionally proper ends and imposes a duty upon both state and federal judges to make a good-faith determination of whether legislation is calculated to achieve constitutionally proper ends. Finally, we confront hard questions concerning the scope of the states’ reserved powers, acknowledging the flaws in the “police-power” jurisprudence associated with the so-called “Lochner era” and we delineate an approach that will better safeguard all “person(s)” against arbitrary power.
By so doing, we assist state and federal legislators by providing clarity concerning the constitutionally proper ends that federal and state legislators can pursue; aid state and federal judges by equipping them to review legislators’ pursuit of those ends; and help members of the public by enabling them to monitor the performance of their legislative and judicial agents.
Scholarly Commons Citation
Barnett, Randy E. and Bernick, Evan, "No Arbitrary Power: An Originalist Theory of the Due Process of Law" (2018). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. 2144.