Weak Courts, Strong Rights: Judicial Review and Social Welfare Rights in Comparative Constitutional Law

Princeton University Press
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Unlike many other countries, the United States has few constitutional guarantees of social welfare rights such as income, housing, or healthcare. In part this is because many Americans believe that the courts cannot possibly enforce such guarantees. However, recent innovations in constitutional design in other countries suggest that such rights can be judicially enforced--not by increasing the power of the courts but by decreasing it. In Weak Courts, Strong Rights, Mark Tushnet uses a comparative legal perspective to show how creating weaker forms of judicial review may actually allow for stronger social welfare rights under American constitutional law.

Under "strong-form" judicial review, as in the United States, judicial interpretations of the constitution are binding on other branches of government. In contrast, "weak-form" review allows the legislature and executive to reject constitutional rulings by the judiciary--as long as they do so publicly. Tushnet describes how weak-form review works in Great Britain and Canada and discusses the extent to which legislatures can be expected to enforce constitutional norms on their own. With that background, he turns to social welfare rights, explaining the connection between the "state action" or "horizontal effect" doctrine and the enforcement of social welfare rights. Tushnet then draws together the analysis of weak-form review and that of social welfare rights, explaining how weak-form review could be used to enforce those rights. He demonstrates that there is a clear judicial path--not an insurmountable judicial hurdle--to better enforcement of constitutional social welfare rights.

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About the author

Mark Tushnet is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. His many books include The New Constitutional Order and Taking the Constitution Away from the Courts (both Princeton). He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 20, 2009
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Pages
312
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ISBN
9781400828159
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Language
English
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Genres
Law / Comparative
Law / General
Law / Judicial Power
Political Science / American Government / General
Political Science / Public Policy / General
Political Science / Public Policy / Social Services & Welfare
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Here a leading scholar in constitutional law, Mark Tushnet, challenges hallowed American traditions of judicial review and judicial supremacy, which allow U.S. judges to invalidate "unconstitutional" governmental actions. Many people, particularly liberals, have "warm and fuzzy" feelings about judicial review. They are nervous about what might happen to unprotected constitutional provisions in the chaotic worlds of practical politics and everyday life. By examining a wide range of situations involving constitutional rights, Tushnet vigorously encourages us all to take responsibility for protecting our liberties. Guarding them is not the preserve of judges, he maintains, but a commitment of the citizenry to define itself as "We the People of the United States." The Constitution belongs to us collectively, as we act in political dialogue with each other--whether in the street, in the voting booth, or in the legislature as representatives of others.

Tushnet urges that we create a "populist" constitutional law in which judicial declarations deserve no special consideration. But he warns that in so doing we must pursue reasonable interpretations of the "thin Constitution"--the fundamental American principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution. A populist Constitution, he maintains, will be more effective than a document exclusively protected by the courts. Tushnet believes, for example, that the serious problems of the communist scare of the 1950s were aggravated when Senator Joseph McCarthy's opponents were lulled into inaction, believing that the judicial branch would step in and declare McCarthy's actions unconstitutional. Instead of fulfilling the expectations, the Court allowed McCarthy to continue his crusade until it was ended. Tushnet points out that in this context and in many others, errors occurred because of the existence of judicial review: neither the People nor their representatives felt empowered to enforce the Constitution because they mistakenly counted on the courts to do so. Tushnet's clarion call for a new kind of constitutional law will be essential reading for constitutional law experts, political scientists, and others interested in how and if the freedoms of the American Republic can survive into the twenty-first century.

In this original, far-reaching, and timely book, Justice Stephen Breyer examines the work of the Supreme Court of the United States in an increasingly interconnected world, a world in which all sorts of activity, both public and private—from the conduct of national security policy to the conduct of international trade—obliges the Court to understand and consider circumstances beyond America’s borders.

It is a world of instant communications, lightning-fast commerce, and shared problems (like public health threats and environmental degradation), and it is one in which the lives of Americans are routinely linked ever more pervasively to those of people in foreign lands. Indeed, at a moment when anyone may engage in direct transactions internationally for services previously bought and sold only locally (lodging, for instance, through online sites), it has become clear that, even in ordinary matters, judicial awareness can no longer stop at the water’s edge.   
To trace how foreign considerations have come to inform the thinking of the Court, Justice Breyer begins with that area of the law in which they have always figured prominently: national security in its constitutional dimension—how should the Court balance this imperative with others, chiefly the protection of basic liberties, in its review of presidential and congressional actions? He goes on to show that as the world has grown steadily “smaller,” the Court’s horizons have inevitably expanded: it has been obliged to consider a great many more matters that now cross borders. What is the geographical reach of an American statute concerning, say, securities fraud, antitrust violations, or copyright protections? And in deciding such matters, can the Court interpret American laws so that they might work more efficiently with similar laws in other nations?

While Americans must necessarily determine their own laws through democratic process, increasingly, the smooth operation of American law—and, by extension, the advancement of American interests and values—depends on its working in harmony with that of other jurisdictions. Justice Breyer describes how the aim of cultivating such harmony, as well as the expansion of the rule of law overall, with its attendant benefits, has drawn American jurists into the relatively new role of “constitutional diplomats,” a little remarked but increasingly important job for them in this fast-changing world.

Written with unique authority and perspective, The Court and the World reveals an emergent reality few Americans observe directly but one that affects the life of every one of us. Here is an invaluable understanding for lawyers and non-lawyers alike.


From the Hardcover edition.
From the best-selling author of A Vast Conspiracy and The Run of His Life comes Too Close to Call--the definitive story of the Bush-Gore presidential recount. A political and legal analyst of unparalleled journalistic skill, Jeffrey Toobin is the ideal writer to distill the events of the thirty-six anxiety-filled days that culminated in one of the most stunning Supreme Court decisions in history.

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