Document Type


Publication Date



State constitutional law is in the spotlight. As federal courts retrench on abortion, democracy, and more, state constitutions are defining rights across the nation. Despite intermittent calls for greater attention to state constitutional theory, neither scholars nor courts have provided a comprehensive account of state constitutional rights or a coherent framework for their adjudication. Instead, many state courts import federal interpretive practices that bear little relationship to state constitutions or institutions.

This Article seeks to begin a new conversation about state constitutional adjudication. It first shows how in myriad defining ways state constitutions differ from the U.S. Constitution: They protect many more rights, temper rights with attention to communal welfare, include positive rights that identify government action as necessary to liberty, and emphasize rights required to sustain democracy. These distinctive founding documents, prizing individual and collective self-determination alike, require their own implementation frameworks — not federal mimicry.

Although state constitutions differ markedly from their federal counterpart, they share features with constitutions around the world that courts adjudicate using proportionality review. Perhaps unsurprisingly, practices associated with proportionality already appear in some state decisions. Synthesizing and building on these practices, this Article argues for democratic proportionality review as a state-centered approach to adjudication. Such review tailors proportionality’s decisional framework to state constitutions committed to popular, majoritarian self-government, and it recognizes state courts as democratically embedded actors, not countermajoritarian interlopers. After explaining how democratic proportionality review operates, the Article sketches some implications for contemporary debates about abortion, voting, occupational licensing, and more.


Constitutional Law | Law | State and Local Government Law


This article originally appeared in 123 Colum. L. Rev. 1855 (2023). Reprinted by permission.