This Article examines the difficult question of the deference congressional fact-findings merit when they support legislation expanding or limiting individual rights. The deference question is crucial to judicial review of such legislation, yet the Supreme Court has offered little by way of a principled answer: platitudes about Congress’s expertise and co-equal status when it wishes to defer to such findings, and bromides about the Court’s superiority in constitutional interpretation when it does not. Scholars have described this important question as “radically under-theorized.” Any stable and useful theory addressing Congress’s ability to participate in the process of constitutional construction requires a better answer to the deference question than those which have been thus far offered. This Article proposes the outlines of such an answer.
This Article begins in Part I by identifying the three axes that should govern the deference question. Based on the insights gleaned from this analysis, Part II identifies six principles guiding the deference inquiry and applies them to congressional deference claims in several contexts: legislation enforcing the Equal Protection Clause, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, a “human life” statute of the sort that has been proposed in the past, and the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirements. This Article concludes with a call for further research on this troublesome yet crucial question, which has so far generated only incomplete, unsatisfying answers.