Current Issue

Volume 77, Number 6

December 2002

Liberty, the New Equality

Rebecca L. Brown

Over the past century, especially after the demise of Lochner, both judges and scholars have increasingly endorsed judicial review of equality claims. The Warren Court’s jurisprudence and John Hart Ely’s theory of representation-reinforcement, for example, helped to legitimate the role of courts in requiring reasons for legislative classifications that disproportionately burden certain groups. By contrast, countermajoritarian concerns have led courts to refrain from judicial review of liberty claims. In this Article, Professor Rebecca L. Brown argues that to stay true to their democratic role courts must protect liberty in the same way that they have protected equality. Turning first to history, Brown shows that from the Revolution onward representatives have been expected to achieve what James Madison termed a “communion of interests” by according positive value to the interests of all their constituents and by subjecting themselves to the burdens they impose on others. Suspect classifications have become the prime indication of a breakdown in the legislative process—a clear sign that the communion of interests has been severed. Under Ely’s theory, judicial review is justified in these cases to reinforce a representational system gone awry. In an increasingly heterogeneous society, however, the representative process can malfunction—the communion of interest can be severed—even without the use of suspect classifications. Why then, Brown asks, should judicial review be justified for equality claims but not for liberty claims, when the underlying interests are the same and there is a failure in the representative system? Pushing Ely’s theory further, Brown offers a new approach to the judicial review of liberty claims. The approach requires courts to weigh the public reasons asserted to justify burdening individual liberties, thereby satisfying themselves that lawmakers likely would be willing to assume the same burdens they impose on others. This protection of individual liberty, Brown shows, is the logical evolution of the theory of judicial review that currently supports equality jurisprudence.