NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 89, Number 2

May 2014

Due Process, Republicanism, and Direct Democracy

Fred O. Smith, Jr.

Voters in twenty-four states may propose and enact legislation without any involvement from representative branches of government. In recent decades, voters have used popular lawmaking to eliminate groups’ liberty and property interests on topics such as marriage, education, public benefits, and taxes. This Article contends that these deprivations undermine principles historically associated with procedural due process, thus raising serious questions about the constitutionality of initiatives that eliminate groups’ protected interests.

The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause embodies principles of fairness that include deliberation, dignity, and equality. The historical salience of these principles is evidenced in colonial charters and state constitutions, the Federalist Papers, antebellum cases interpreting state due process clauses, antebellum cases governing popular lawmaking, and legislative debates leading up to the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification. These principles should inform the doctrine’s approach to defining procedural fairness.

When deprivation of liberty or property is at stake, the republican system of representative government protects these principles of fairness better than most contemporary plebiscites. Indeed, in a series of vastly understudied cases in the decade leading up to the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification, at least eight state courts expressed normative doubts about popular lawmaking. While these cases were not premised on due process clauses, these courts nonetheless invoked principles associated with due process and republicanism when questioning popular lawmaking, providing some evidence of the dominant understanding of these terms during that era.

What is more, the requirement of due process of law, at a minimum, prohibits deprivations of liberty or property that violate other constitutional provisions. There is an enduring debate about whether the initiative process violates the non-justiciable Republican Form Clause. This Article seeks in part to inform that debate. And if, in fact, the initiative process violates the nonjusticiable Republican Form Clause, initiatives that deprive individuals of liberty or property violate the justiciable Due Process Clause.