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Due Process of Law

Substantive Due Process

The modern notion of substantive due process emerged in decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court during the late nineteenth century. In the 1897 case of Allgeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U.S. 578, 17 S. Ct. 427, 41 L. Ed. 832, the Court for the first time used the substantive due process framework to strike down a state statute. Before that time, the Court generally had used the COMMERCE CLAUSE or the Contracts Clause of the Constitution to invalidate state legislation. The Allgeyer case concerned a Louisiana law that proscribed the entry into certain contracts with insurance firms in other states. The Court found that the law unfairly abridged the right to enter into lawful contracts, as guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The next 40 years after Allgeyer were the heyday of what has been called the freedom-of-contract version of substantive due process. During those years, the Court often used the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to void state regulation of private industry, particularly regarding terms of employment such as maximum working hours or minimum wages. In one famous case from that era, LOCHNER V. NEW YORK, 198 U.S. 45, 25 S. Ct. 539, 49 L. Ed. 937 (1905), the Court struck down a New York law (N.Y. Laws 1897, chap. 415, art. 8, § 110) that prohibited employers from allowing workers in bakeries to be on the job more than ten hours per day and 60 hours per week. The Court found that the law was not a valid exercise of the state's POLICE POWER. It wrote that it could find no connection between the number of hours worked and the quality of the baked goods, thus finding that the law was arbitrary.

In Allgeyer and Lochner and in other cases like them, the Court did not find that state legislatures had failed to enact their laws using the proper procedures—which would present an issue of procedural due process. Instead, it found that the laws themselves violated certain economic freedoms that inhered in the Due Process Clause, specifically its protection of liberty and what the Court described as freedom or liberty of contract. This freedom meant that individuals had the right to purchase or to sell labor or products without unreasonable interference by the government.

This interpretation of the Due Process Clause put the Court in direct opposition to many of the reforms and regulations passed by state legislatures during the Progressive Era of the early twentieth century. Justices who were opposed to the Court's position in such cases, including OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES JR. and JOHN M. HARLAN, saw such rulings as unwarranted judicial activism in support of a particular free-market ideology.

During the 1930s, the Court used the doctrine of substantive due process to strike down federal legislation as well, particularly legislation associated with President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT's NEW DEAL. In 1937, Roosevelt proposed a court-packing scheme in which Roosevelt would have sought to overcome Court opposition to his programs by appointing additional justices. Although the plan was never adopted, the Court quickly changed its position on substantive due process and other issues and began to uphold NEW DEAL legislation. Now, a majority on the Court, including Chief Justice CHARLES E. HUGHES and Justice BENJAMIN N. CARDOZO, abandoned the freedom-of-contract version of substantive due process.

Even before the Court abandoned the freedom-of-contract approach to substantive due process, it began to explore using the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to re-evaluate state laws and actions affecting civil freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights. Since the 1833 case of BARRON V. BALTIMORE, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 243, 8 L. Ed. 672, the Court had interpreted the Bill of Rights as applying only to the federal government. Beginning in the 1920s, however, it began to apply the Bill of Rights to the states through the incorporation of those rights into the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In GITLOW V. NEW YORK, 268 U.S. 652, 45 S. Ct. 625, 69 L. Ed. 1138 (1925), the Court ruled that the liberty guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause protects FIRST AMENDMENT free speech from STATE ACTION. In NEAR V. MINNESOTA, 283 U.S. 697, 51 S. Ct. 625, 75 L. Ed. 1357 (1931), the Court found that FREEDOM OF THE PRESS was also protected from state action by the Due Process Clause, and it ruled the same with regard to freedom of religion in Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S. Ct. 900, 84 L. Ed. 1213 (1940).

Because incorporation has proceeded gradually, with some elements of the Bill of Rights still unincorporated, it has also been called selective incorporation. Nevertheless, during the twentieth century, most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights were incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, thereby protecting individuals from arbitrary actions by state as well as federal governments.

By the 1960s, the Court had extended its interpretation of substantive due process to include rights and freedoms that are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution but that, according to the Court, extend or derive from existing rights. These rights and freedoms include the freedoms of association and nonassociation, which have been inferred from the First Amendment's FREEDOM-OF-SPEECH provision, and the right to privacy. The right to privacy, which has been derived from the First, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments, has been an especially controversial aspect of substantive due process. First established in GRISWOLD V. CONNECTICUT, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510 (1965), the Court later used it to protect a woman's decision to have an ABORTION free from state interference, in the first trimester of pregnancy (ROE V. WADE, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147 [1973]).

In several recent decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has considered the application of substantive due process in light of actions taken by law enforcement officers. It often has determined that police actions have not violated a defendant's due process rights. In County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 118 S. Ct. 1708, 140 L. Ed. 2d 1043 (1998), for example, the Court determined that high-speed chases by police officers did not violate the due process rights of the suspects whom the officers were chasing. In that case, two police officers had engaged in a pursuit of two young suspects at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour through a residential neighborhood. One of the young men died, while the other suffered serious injuries. A unanimous Court held that the officers' decision to engage in the pursuit had not amounted to "governmental arbitrariness" that the Due Process Clause protects due to the nature of the judgment used by the officers in such a circumstance.

The Court in City of West Covina v. Perkins, 525 U.S. 234, 119 S. Ct. 678, 142 L. Ed. 2d 636 (1999) again held in favor of law enforcement officers in a claim that police had violated the plaintiff's due process rights. After seizing PERSONAL PROPERTY, including cash savings, of two owners of a home they had searched during a murder investigation, the police retained the property at the police station. When the homeowners sought to have the property returned, the police failed to provide the homeowners with detailed information about how the owners

A crowd demonstrates before a federal courthouse in Seattle, Washington, in June 1999, prior to a hearing in which five detainees of the Immigration and Naturalization Service claimed that indefinite detention violates the constitutional guarantee of due process.

could have their property returned. The homeowners then filed a 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 action against the police, claiming deprivation of CIVIL RIGHTS under the Due Process Clause. The Supreme Court held that because information about the proper procedures to retrieve this property under state law was readily available to the plaintiffs, the police had not deprived the homeowners of their due process rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court is more likely to find due process violations where the actions of a government official are clearly arbitrary. In City of Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41, 119 S. Ct. 1849, 144 L. Ed. 2d 67 (1999), for example, it struck down a Chicago anti-gang ordinance as unconstitutional on due process grounds. The ordinance allowed police officers to break up any group of two or more persons whom they believed to be loitering in a public place, provided that the officer also believed that at least one member of the group was a gang member. The ordinance had led to more than 43,000 arrests. Because the ordinance did not draw the line between innocent and guilty behavior and failed to give guidance to police on the matter, the ordinance violated the due process rights of the subjects of these break-ups. The Court held that since the ordinance gave absolute discretion to the police officers to determine what actions violated the ordinance, it was an arbitrary restriction on personal liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause.

In 2002, the Court found that arbitrary actions by a trial judge in a murder case violated the due process rights of the defendant (Lee v. Kemna, 534 U.S. 362, 122 S. Ct. 877, 151 L. Ed. 820 [2002]). In that case, the defendant was charged with first-degree murder for driving the getaway car for a man who had pled guilty to a murder charge in Kansas City, Missouri. The defendant claimed that he had been in California at the time of the murder, and four family members were to testify at trial that the defendant was not in Kansas City at the time of the murder. However, the family members left before they were expected to testify, and the defense could not locate them. The defense asked the court for a short CONTINUANCE of one or two days, but the judge refused due to personal conflicts and a conflict with another trial. Without the testimony of the family members, the defendant was convicted of murder. The high court held that the judge's arbitrary actions violated the defendant's due process rights, and it vacated the defendant's conviction.

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