University of Michigan
With Stare Decisis and Constitutional Text, 1 Jonathan Mitchell has produced what I think is the most interesting and creative textual defense2 (or at least partial defense) to date of the use of horizontal precedent in federal constitutional cases.3 Mitchell’s careful analysis of the Supremacy Clause is fascinating and instructive, and he does an impeccable job of drawing out the implications of his premise that the Supremacy Clause prescribes only a very limited choice-of-law rule—a rule that does not, by its own terms, specifically elevate the Constitution above federal statutes and treaties. His innovative and intriguing framework yields four distinct conclusions about the permissible uses of precedent. In brief, under Mitchell’s analysis, the Supremacy Clause forbids using precedent (1) to invalidate congressional statutes (because congressional statutes are the supreme law of the land while prior court decisions are not) or (2) to uphold constitutionally challenged state laws (because the Constitution is the supreme law of the land while prior court decisions and state-law interpretations of the Constitution are not). Yet, according to Mitchell, the Supremacy Clause does not forbid using precedent (3) to uphold congressional statutes (because both the Constitution and congressional statutes are equally supreme, and there is no constitutional mandate to prefer one to the other) or (4) to invalidate state laws (because neither prior court decisions nor state laws are supreme, and there is no constitutional mandate to prefer one to the other). The article is an eminently worthy contribution to a vibrant debate, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to it—as well as to clarify some ambiguities4 in my own prior work on precedent.
Rebel without a Clause: The Irrelevance of Article VI to Constitutional Supremecy
Michigan Law Review First Impressions
Available at: https://scholarship.law.bu.edu/faculty_scholarship/2455