Reverse Incorporation of State Constitutional Law

Southern California Law Review (2011)

Full Citation

Reverse Incorporation of State Constitutional Law, 84 So. Cal. L. Rev. 323 (2011)


Joseph Blocher


Southern California Law Review


State supreme courts and the United States Supreme Court are the independent and final arbiters of their respective constitutions, and may therefore take different approaches to analogous state and federal constitutional issues. Such issues arise often, because the documents were modeled on each other and share many of the same guarantees. In answering them, state courts have, as a matter of practice, generally adopted federal constitutional doctrine as their own. Federal courts, by contrast, have largely ignored state constitutional law when interpreting the federal constitution.

In an age of growing international comparativism, this lack of intranational borrowing is striking, especially since state constitutions served as the template for the federal constitution and generally protect the same rights as are found in the federal Bill of Rights. In a constitutional system that claims to be committed to federalism and respect for the states, why is it that state constitutional law has had such a slight impact on federal constitutional doctrine? This Article seeks to answer that question, and suggests that in certain circumstances federal courts should look to state constitutional law when faced with analogous federal constitutional controversies.

With regard to the 8th Amendment in particular: “If state legislative enactments are useful indicators of current social values, then it seems that state constitutions should be as well, especially given the political responsiveness of state constitutions.”