City of Boerne v. Flores - 1997
The court declared unconstitutional the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Act required any agency to show a compelling interest in enacting a law that even incidentally affects the exercise of religion.
- The issue in the case lays in the determination of the meaning of the 14th A. § 5 grant of power to enforce the provisions of the 14th A. Kennedy interprets the clause as solely permitting remedial legislation and not preventative legislation.
- Kennedy looks to history of the enactment of the 14th Amendment. Prior to enactment of the amendment there was debate as to language of Section 5.
Originally the language gave Congress "the power to make all laws necessary and proper to secure…" the rights contained in the 14th Amendment.
According to Kennedy the proposal was defeated because it reflected a dangerous centralization of power. The language was changed to give Congress the power to "enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provision of this article."
The court in Boerne interprets this change to mean that Congress only has the power to remedy a States infringement of the 14 A. rights, and not to enact preventative legislation.
The court concludes that the 14th A. does not give Congress the power to enforce a positive right, rather the 14th A. prevents the States from removing that right.
The court uses history by reasserting the limitations of the federal government along with the legislative history of the 14th A. to limit the power of Congress to enforce Constitutional Rights.
- If you look to the history of the enactment of the 14th A., specifically in light of intention for it to constitutionalize the Civil Rights Act, the court's interpretation is untenable.
A Prigg v. Pennsylvania or McCulloch v. Maryland type interpretation of the 14th A. suggests that if the rights secured by the 14th A. exist then Congress, through §5 has plenary power to enforce these rights. This understanding is reflected in the Civil Rights Acts and especially the Enforcement Act of 1870.