The coming of the New Deal may have spelled the end of the Lochner era in the federal courts, but in the state courts Lochner's doctrine of economic substantive due process lives on. Since the New Deal, courts in almost every state have rebuffed the United States Supreme Court and have interpreted their own state constitutions' due process clauses to provide substantive protections to economic liberties. This Article presents a comprehensive survey of state court use of economic substantive due process since the New Deal. It includes an enumeration of every instance since 1940 of a state court of highest review protecting economic liberties through state constitutional economic substantive due process. Previous work on the subject has examined this post-New Deal rejection of the United States Supreme Court's jurisprudence, but this is the first study to comprehensively analyze the trends of that rejection.

This comprehensive analysis reveals an intriguing, and potentially controversial, discovery. The discovery is that although state courts still to some degree apply state constitutional economic substantive due process in protecting economic liberties, the rate of that application declined dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s. The decline is surprising considering that through the 1940s, 1950s, and even 1960s, a full thirty years after the New Deal, state courts did not shy from invoking the long-past ghost of Lochner. This Article argues that the reason for this relatively sudden decline is that many state judges were comfortable applying economic substantive due process until the coming of Roe v. Wade and its related right to privacy cases. Because the right to privacy cases utilized substantive due process, but of the non-economic variety, a continued use of economic substantive due process provided legitimacy to their holdings. Faced with either legitimizing opinions legalizing abortion and other privacy rights, or rejecting substantive due process altogether, conservative state jurists chose the latter. These conservatives joined with progressive jurists who were already hostile toward the protection of economic liberties. Thus, with these strange bedfellows aligned, the use of economic substantive due process under state constitutional law quickly withered into the rare, but not quite extinct, doctrine that it is today.

Recommended Citation

Sanders, Anthony B. “The "New Judicial Federalism" Before its Time: A Comprehensive Review of Economic Substantive Due Process Under State Constitutional Law Since 1940 and the Reasons for its Recent Decline.” American University Law Review 55, no.2 (December 2005): 457-535.