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Essay On Judicial Activism Is A Misnomer


According to the theory of “institutional dialogue,” courts and legislatures participate in a dialogue aimed at achieving the proper balance between constitutional principles and public policies and the existence of this dialogue constitutes a good reason for not conceiving of judicial review as democratically illegitimate. This essay sets out to demonstrate that there are important limits to the capacity of insitutional dialogue to legitimize the institution of judicial review. To that end, it situates the theory of institutional dialogue within the debate over the legitimacy of judicial review of legislation within democracy and introduces a distinction between two conceptions of dialogue—dialogue as deliberation and dialogue as conversation—and examines the limits of each theory. The author does not contend that there can be no dialogue between courts and legislatures but, rather, that the kind of dialogue that would be needed to confer legitimacy on the institution and practice of judicial review does not—and cannot—exist. Consequently, the normative character of institutional dialogue theory, as conceived thus far, is ultimately rhetorical.

The theory of “institutional dialogue,” as I shall call it, may be seen as a Canadian contribution to the debate over the democratic legitimacy of judicial review.1 According to this theory, the courts and the legislatures participate in a dialogue regarding the determination of the proper balance between constitutional principles and public policies, and, this being the case, there is good reason to think of judicial review as democratically legitimate. It is an ongoing dialogue because the judiciary does not necessarily have the last word with respect to constitutional matters and policies; the legislatures would almost always have the power to reverse, modify, or void a judicial decision nullifying legislation and, therefore, to achieve their social or economic policy ends. Consequently the countermajoritarian objection to judicial review cannot be sustained.2

The theory of institutional dialogue has emerged conceptually out of the experience of Canadian constitutionalism and in light of constitutional practice under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.3 The theory claims that this form of dialogue has been made possible by virtue of various Charter provisions, the two most important of which are the “limitation” clause (section 1) and the “override clause” (section 33). According to the limitation clause, legislatures are constitutionally allowed to limit by law any guaranteed rights, provided that the limits comply with a set of justificatory requirements amounting to complex tests of legitimacy, rationality, necessity, and proportionality.4 Under the override clause, legislatures are constitutionally permitted to override by law certain specific guaranteed rights, provided that the overriding law expressly declares that “it shall operate notwithstanding” the provisions that mention the relevant specific guaranteed rights.5 One might believe, therefore, that the theory of institutional dialogue merely describes a peculiar feature of the Canadian constitutional structure. This would be wrong. The theory has much broader pertinence and appeal.6 On the one hand, the idea that some form of dialogue, discussion, communication, deliberation, or discourse may confer legitimating force on political authority and decision making has been a recurrent theme in contemporary legal, political, and social philosophy.7 On the other, an institutional dialogue may occur anywhere legislatures are able to reverse, modify, avoid, or otherwise reply to judicial decisions nullifying legislation. In particular, it may occur in any jurisdiction where the constitution contains explicit limitation clauses,8 or, in the absence of an explicit limitation clause entrenched in the constitution, where the courts have introduced some form of balancing test to control the constitutionality of the laws limiting guaranteed rights.9 Indeed, according to institutional dialogue theorists, in Canada the institutional dialogue would mostly proceed under the limitation clause.

My purpose in this text will be to show that there are important limits to the theory of institutional dialogue. This is not to say that no form of dialogue between the courts and the legislatures is possible; at least my arguments do not entail such a conclusion. Rather, my claim is that the kind of dialogue that would be needed to confer legitimating force on the institution and practice of judicial review does not and cannot exist. Consequently, the normative character of institutional dialogue theory, as so far conceived, is ultimately rhetorical in nature.10 The essay's first section spells out the theory of institutional dialogue in the debate about the legitimacy of judicial review within a democracy. The second section introduces a distinction between two conceptions of dialogue: dialogue as conversation and dialogue as deliberation. The third and the fourth sections introduce two limits to the theory of institutional dialogue as deliberation. The first limit stems from what I call the doctrine of “judicial responsibility.” The second and most important limit derives from the conditions judicial power and judicial decisions must satisfy in order to be accepted as morally legitimate. The fifth section examines the limits of the theory of institutional dialogue as conversation.

1. The problem of legitimacy and the institutional dialogue theory

The problem of legitimacy raised by the institution of judicial review is well known. It is rooted in the majoritarian assumption that the ultimate source of legitimate lawmaking in a democracy lies in the will of a majority of the people or of their elected representatives. It has been generally assumed, therefore, that legislation enacted in accordance with majority rule by the people or by their elected representatives is, in principle, democratically legitimate. On the other hand, judicial review involves judges who are able to nullify legislation democratically enacted in accordance with the majority rule, and yet these judges neither are the people nor are they elected by them; they neither represent the citizens and nor are they held accountable for their decisions. This state of affairs is understood to be essentially countermajoritarian. It follows, then, that judicial review is democratically illegitimate in principle, and that the onus of showing it is legitimate necessarily rests on those who believe it desirable. To this end, various strategies have been propounded, which may be described, variously, as source based, process based, or substance based.11

The most enduring and relevant approach for our purposes has been source based. It postulates that judicial review can be legitimized if, and only if, it can be shown that, in some ways, such an approach possesses a positive democratic source or pedigree. There have been two main source-based strategies. The first constitutes the prevailing orthodoxy in Canada and has been such in the United States for a long time. The legitimacy of the judicial review of legislation, in this view, lies in the fact that the written constitution, on the basis of which judicial review finds its authority, was initiated, willed, or ratified by the people or by their elected representatives. In Canada, for example, in an important decision dealing with the legitimacy of judicial review, Motor Vehicle Act (B.C.) Reference, the Supreme Court said:

It ought not be forgotten that the historic decision to entrench the Charter in our Constitution was taken not by the courts but by the elected representatives of the people of Canada. It was those representatives who extended the scope of constitutional adjudication and entrusted the courts with this new and onerous responsibility. Adjudication under the Charter must be approached free of any lingering doubts as to its legitimacy.12

In the U.S., this view corresponds to Chief Justice Marshall's reasoning in Marbury v. Madison.13 The will or consent of the majority of the people or of their elected representatives provides the kind of democratic pedigree that can confer legitimating force both on the constitution and, consequently, on the institution and practice of judicial review based on that constitution.

But this view proves incoherent. Insofar as the strategy postulates that democracy represents the ultimate normative principle underlying legitimate lawmaking, it means that the people or their elected representatives not only have the ultimate right to rule over their society, that is, to make or unmake any law whatsoever, but that they are entitled, as well, to change their minds with respect to any legal principle and social policy. This idea is expressed in the notion of popular sovereignty and requires that a democracy be continuous. Accordingly, and as a matter of principle, the courts should always uphold the law that best represents the will or the consent of the actual people or of their elected representatives. It follows that where there is a clear conflict of laws, they should uphold the law that has been enacted by the later democratic body of citizens. Yet, the first strategy states that it would be morally permissible for the courts to uphold the will or judgment of past citizens—the source of the legitimating, democratic pedigree—against the will or judgments of present-day citizens and thus limit their power to determine democratically for themselves what kinds of policies, values, interests, and ends should be promoted pursuant to their own interests. The end result is that the first strategy postulates that democracy should be continuous but seeks, at the same time, to legitimize a form of “ancestor worship.”14

The second strategy purports to avoid this incoherence. The legitimacy of judicial review, here, derives from the fact that constitutional norms and values express a kind of collective will that is democratically superior to the will or consent expressed in ordinary legislation. This strategy may take various forms. According to Bruce Ackerman's notion of “democratic dualism,” for example, the democratic superiority of the American Constitution, would derive from the fact that its values are the result of rare moments of lawmaking that entrench the considered judgments of a mass of mobilized citizens debating together, whereas ordinary legislation merely reflects the daily work of politicians who speak through institutions that normally do not truly—as it were—represent the citizens. Thus courts, in upholding constitutional values against some particular piece of legislation, may be said to thwart legitimately the will of representatives on behalf of the people.15 Another form of this second strategy proceeds from what may be called a “metaphysical democratic dualism.” Such a view presupposes, for example, that there exists a tension within a democratic polity between the “true” people, who would be rational or committed to the authentic purposes of the community, and the “empirical” people, those who express themselves mostly as voters in an election and, quite often, are guided by their emotions, self-interests, passions, immediate needs, rhetoric, and expediency in general. Thus, where some instance of ordinary legislation would be inconsistent with the rational values of the people or the true purposes of the community, the “true” (albeit theoretical) people would “really” wish to nullify policies they—manifested as voters—“actually” wish to promote. Consequently, the courts would be morally entitled to uphold constitutional values against particular legislation, for they would be upholding the “true” will of the people.16

These versions of the dualist strategies, as well as others, might be objectionable on their merit. But even if they were acceptable and internally coherent, they hardly legitimize the institution of judicial review.17 First, the strategies cannot succeed unless the norms expressed or embodied in the written constitution truly constrain the process of constitutional review. Otherwise, the courts would be basing their decisions on values not expressed or embodied in the constitution and, consequently, on values not legitimated by their democratic pedigree. Now, it is widely acknowledged that constitutional provisions are vague and indeterminate, and it is arguable, for example, that the Supreme Court of Canada has rejected any form of legal formalism with respect to constitutional interpretation.18 Source-based democratic arguments, therefore, hardly show that judicial review is legitimate. The strategies described above require constitutional norms to be carved in a democratic stone, but the text looks like an empty shell.

Finally, even if the constitution were democratically superior to ordinary legislation, it would not necessarily follow that judges should have the power to review legislation. Insofar as political legitimacy is a matter of democratic pedigree, it seems to follow that the legislatures, not the courts, should be morally entitled to make the final decisions with respect to constitutional interpretation and application—for the very reason that they best represent the people. These strategies seem to require legislative supremacy even as they actually seek to legitimize judicial supremacy.

The theory of institutional dialogue can be thought of as a response to the foregoing objections; namely, the objection from the continuous character of democratic legitimacy, the objection from indeterminacy, and the objection from judicial supremacy. There are various versions of the theory of institutional dialogue.19 The most influential, so far, has been put forward by Peter Hogg and Allison Bushell (now Thornton).20 I shall take theirs as paradigmatic.

According to this version, judicial review would be, as a matter of empirical fact, “part of a ‘dialogue’ between the judges and the legislatures.”21 This dialogue would be characterized by the fact that judicial decisions based on the constitution, even those striking down legislation, are almost always open to reversal, modification, or avoidance through the ordinary legislative process. While the judges may assess the validity of the laws in accordance with the values of the constitution, as they understand them, the legislatures generally will be able either to respect judicial judgments or to correct them, whether by redrafting their laws or by enacting new legislation that carries out the former legislative objectives.

Legislative corrections may take a variety of forms. The Canadian Charter, for example, provides four procedures, the first two being the most important: (a) the legislatures may directly override the judicial decision nullifying their law in accordance with section 33;22 (b) the legislatures can enact alternative laws that would achieve the legislative objectives of the invalidated law, albeit by somewhat different means, in accordance with section 1 of the Charter;23 (c) where the rights are internally “qualified,” the legislatures are permitted to enact new laws that satisfy the Court's understanding of the internal standards of fairness and reasonableness;24 and (d), where a law is struck down on the ground of equality rights, the legislatures have a variety of remedial measures that allow them to set their own priorities.25 Of course, where section 1 does not apply and section 33 is not available, or where the objective of the law is unconstitutional and section 33 not available, the dialogue is precluded. However, these cases are exceptional. The normal situation would be one of institutional dialogue.

According to Hogg and Thornton, the empirical evidence supporting institutional dialogue refutes “the critique of the Charter based on democratic legitimacy.”26 Indeed, where a judicial decision striking down a law on Charter grounds can be reversed, modified, or avoided by a new law, “any concern about the legitimacy of judicial review is greatly diminished.”27 The objection founded on the continuous character of democracy is refuted. While the courts may nullify legislation on the basis of past citizens' views, their decisions almost always leave room for contemporary legislative responses. Similarly, the objection from indeterminacy loses its point. Even if the judges were “activist” and enforced values either not consistent with an “original” understanding of the text or not objectively commanded by the text, the legislatures would normally be able to devise a response “which accomplishes the social or economic objectives that the judicial decision has impeded.”28 Finally, the objection from judicial supremacy is much weaker than generally thought. While the courts may nullify legislation on the basis of their own formal or substantive understanding of constitutional principles and purposes, the legislatures may almost always reverse, modify, or avoid their decisions. Thus, as already noted, the courts would not have the last word concerning the proper balance between individual interests and social policies, and the constitution would not necessarily be whatever the courts say it is.

It follows that judicial review would rarely raise “an absolute barrier to the wishes of the democratic institutions.”29 To this extent, it is not antidemocratic. As Hogg and Thornton argue, “[i]n the end, if the democratic will is there, the legislative objective will still be able to be accomplished, albeit with some new safeguards to protect individual rights and liberty. Judicial review is not ‘a veto over the politics of the nation.’”30 Moreover, judicial review would even enhance democracy because it would occasion a “public debate” in which Charter values would play a “more prominent role” than they would have if there had been no judicial decision.31

To be sure, the Court may have forced a topic onto the legislative agenda that the legislative body would have preferred not to have to deal with. And, of course, the precise terms of any new law would have been powerfully influenced by the Court's decision. The legislative body would have been forced to give greater weight to the Charter values identified by the Court in devising the means of carrying out the objectives, or the legislative body might have been forced to modify its objectives to some extent to accommodate the Court's concerns. These are constraints on the democratic process, no doubt, but the final decision is the democratic one.32

The concept of dialogue purports to describe the whole of the process by which judicial review constitutes the “beginning of a dialogue as to how best to reconcile the individualistic values of the Charter with the accomplishment of social and economic policies for the benefit of the community as a whole.”33 Kent Roach has refined this thesis. He argues that the courts' expertise in interpreting rights justifies their drawing “the attention of the legislature to fundamental values that are likely to be ignored or finessed in the legislative process,”34 but not in their attempting to “end the conversation or conduct a monologue in which [their]…Charter rulings are the final word.”35 Thus, even if the legislatures are required to explain explicitly why they wish to limit or override certain rights and freedoms, their ability to reply to the Court without “attempting to curb the Court or change the Constitution,” as would occur under the “American model of judicial supremacy,” means that the Court “need not have the last word.”36 Under a dialogic approach, says Roach, “the dilemma of judicial activism in a democracy diminishes perhaps to the point of evaporation. The answer to what is called judicial activism is legislative activism.”37

In a number of decisions, certain judges of the Supreme Court of Canada have explicitly referred to the theory of institutional dialogue. In Vriend v. Alberta,38 for example, Justice Frank Iacobucci referred to this theory, among others, in order to respond to the arguments that judicial review would not be democratically legitimate. He said:

As I view the matter, the Charter has given rise to a more dynamic interaction among the branches of governance. This interaction has been aptly described as a “dialogue” by some.39 In reviewing legislative enactments and executive decisions to ensure constitutional validity, the courts speak to the legislative and executive branches. As has been pointed out, most of the legislation held not to pass constitutional muster has been followed by new legislation designed to accomplish similar objectives (see Hogg and Bushell, supra, at p. 82). By doing this, the legislature responds to the courts; hence the dialogue among the branches.

To my mind, a great value of judicial review and this dialogue among the branches is that each of the branches is made somewhat accountable to the other. The work of the legislature is reviewed by the courts and the work of the court in its decisions can be reacted to by the legislature in the passing of new legislation (or even overarching laws under s. 33 of the Charter). This dialogue between and accountability of each of the branches have the effect of enhancing the democratic process, not denying it.40


[1998] 1 S.C.R. 493, paras. 138–139.


See, e.g., Hogg & Bushnell, supra note 1.

In R. v. Mills,41 Justices McLachlin and Iacobucci evoked the idea of institutional dialogue—endorsed in Vriend—as a rationale for not viewing the common law rules involving interpretation of the Charter as the only possible basis for a constitutional regime.42 In Mills, the Supreme Court had to decide whether a specific piece of legislation43 enacted by Parliament, altering a common law procedure established in accordance with Charter standards by the Court in R. v. O'Connor,44 was constitutionally valid. According to the judges, “it is important to keep in mind that the decision in O'Connor is not necessarily the last word on the subject. The law develops through dialogue between courts and legislatures: see Vriend…. Against the backdrop of O'Connor, Parliament was free to craft its own solution to the problem consistent with the Charter.”45

As a result of the consultation process, Parliament decided to supplement the “likely relevant” standard for production to the judge proposed in O'Connor with the further requirement that production be “necessary in the interests of justice.” The result was s. 278.5. This process is a notable example of the dialogue between the judicial and legislative branches discussed above. This Court acted in O'Connor, and the legislature responded with Bill C-46. As already mentioned, the mere fact that Bill C-46 does not mirror O'Connor does not render it unconstitutional.46

The theory of institutional dialogue has been endorsed by other judges as well.47 Nonetheless, this theory has been vigorously criticized. Christopher Manfredi and James Kelly, for example, have probably captured some of the main weaknesses of its empirical claims.48 According to them, the empirical demonstration on which the notion of dialogue appears to depend suffers from several flaws. In particular, they claim that many of the legislative sequels regarded as evidence of dialogue could be regarded as simple acts of compliance with judicial decisions and that most legislative sequels have involved more than minor amendments. Their analysis of the data suggests that the institutional dialogue is both more complex and less extensive than claimed by Hogg and Thornton.49

But the most important criticism, for our purposes, has focused on the normative claims of the institutional dialogue theory. According to some, the theory's main weakness—from a normative perspective—lies in the fact that it maintains, indeed enhances, the supremacy and authority of the judges with respect to constitutional interpretation. For example, Manfredi and Kelly argue that, even apart from the flawed empirical claims, the metaphor of dialogue “provides only a weak response to the normative issues.”50 Following Mark Tushnet, they maintain that the kind of dialogue described by Hogg and Thornton both distorts policy and debilitates democracy. It distorts policy because the legislatures may “tailor statute[s] to judicially articulated norms of constitutional meaning”; may believe mistakenly that the preferred policy “is outside the available range”; or may modify their laws before a final appellate court decision, where the threat of constitutional reversal exists.51 Dialogue of this sort may debilitate democracy because it entails legislative subordination (or obedience) to the courts' monopoly over the correct interpretation of the constitution. In their view, genuine dialogue “only exists when legislatures are recognized as legitimate interpreters of the constitution and have an effective means to assert that interpretation.”52

It has been argued that Mills is an illustration of “genuine” institutional dialogue.53 In this case, the Supreme Court referred to the idea of institutional dialogue as a reason for recognizing the constitutionality of certain ordinary legislation otherwise inconsistent with its own judicial precedent in establishing and applying Charter standards and in spite of the fact that this law did not use the override provision (section 33).54 A number of authors have consequently maintained that the theory of institutional dialogue may weaken, indeed deny, the supremacy and authority of the judges with respect to constitutional interpretation. Jamie Cameron, for example, has maintained that this form of dialogue is dangerous and flawed.55 It is dangerous because it invites the legislatures “to override Supreme Court of Canada authority by ordinary legislation and thereby avoid paying the institutional price of relying on s. 33.”56 It is flawed because of its “inherent and unavoidable malleability.”57 Since the Court may invoke the concept both in deference to Parliament, as in Mills, and to defend decisions striking down legislation, as in Vriend, Charter interpretation can hardly be principled.58 The power to decide important questions “ricochets between institutions engaged in some ad hoc form of dialogue”59 and decisions appear to follow a “political barometer”; when the judges believe that the legislature has been progressive, its law should be upheld, and when they believe that the legislature has acted regressively, the Charter can be enforced.60 Cameron concludes that the dialogue is “likely to compromise entitlements and destabilize Charter jurisprudence.”61

For another, Jean Leclair has argued that the theory of institutional dialogue, especially as articulated by the Canadian Supreme Court in Vriend and in Mills, should be abandoned.62 Since the dialogue purports to make each of the branches somewhat “accountable” to the other, it would appear to be inconsistent with the normative principle of the separation of powers. According to Leclair, the separation of powers is required not only for the good of individual freedom but also for the legitimacy of both the legislative and the judicial powers. If the legitimacy of legislation lies in its democratic pedigree, the legitimacy of the judicial power derives from the nature of its specific “adjudicative” function, that is, from the fact that controversies are decided by a disinterested third party after hearing both sides. In the case of constitutional matters, this detachment or disinterestedness requires that the judges be true to their antimajoritarian nature, to their precedents, and to their own mode of reasoning in the process of constitutional lawmaking.63 This explains why the principle of the separation of powers emphasizes conflict not collaboration, much less confusion, between the courts and the legislatures. Consequently, Leclair argues that the courts should replace the theory of institutional dialogue with other kinds of dialogical approaches that would respect the principle of the separation of powers and the principle of participatory democracy. Such approaches would require the courts to work within some version of judicial minimalism64 and the legislatures to listen to all the citizens potentially affected by the laws that might limit fundamental values.65

I tend to be persuaded by most of these criticisms, although I do not necessarily endorse any one specific form of dialogue or version of judicial supremacy, deference, or activism assumed to be legitimate by the various critics. Of course, these criticisms have invited replies, new objections, and refinements, and the debate still goes on.66 Nevertheless, what has been said so far is sufficient for my purposes.

2. Two conceptions of dialogue

That a dialogue between the legislature and the court could legitimize the institution of judicial review in a democracy is a powerful and appealing notion. Yet, the theory of institutional dialogue is problematical. In order to see why, it is necessary to clarify what is meant by “dialogue” as the idea pertains to the legitimization of judicial review. In a general sense, a dialogue assumes that two or more persons, recognized as equal partners, exchange words, ideas, opinions, feelings, emotions, intentions, desires, judgments, and experiences together within a shared space of intersubjective meanings. But there are various kinds of dialogue. In what follows, I will introduce two distinct conceptions of dialogue.

In the first instance, the word dialogue can be used to describe a conversation. In this sense, a dialogue involves at least two persons, recognized as equals, exchanging words, ideas, opinions, feelings, and so forth together in rather informal and spontaneous ways. In a conversation, the participants have no specific practical purpose other than the general goal of exploring or creating a common world and body of meanings, learning something new about others, or discovering new perspectives. Discussions with friends over a meal are generally of this kind. We exchange points of view on a plurality of subjects freely, with no specific goal, no timetable, no strong debate and argumentation, and, sometimes, with humorous comments. A dialogue as conversation can be more or less successful, depending on the degree of mutual understanding. In order to be successful, the participants must encounter each other in a shared world through a common language. This presupposes cooperation. Each participant must have an interest in, and a serious commitment to, what the others have to say. A conversation may fail, therefore, when the participants talk at cross-purposes or when they do not truly open themselves to the others or to what they have to say. I shall call this form of dialogue a “dialogue as conversation.”

Since a dialogue as “informal” conversation has no specific practical purpose, it does not aim at taking a collective decision; reaching agreement; solving problems or conflicts; persuading others that a given opinion or thesis is true, the most justified, or the best; or determining together which particular view should govern actions or decisions. For this reason, a dialogue as conversation has no practical outcome to legitimize. Of course, it may possess some normative value; however, it possesses no legitimating value. Nevertheless, however informally it proceeds, a successful conversation may have an impact, however minimal, on the life of the participants. If I talked to someone who told me that she loves the tango or is keen to rent a villa in the city of Florence, our conversation may have provoked in my mind new interests, such as taking tango lessons or going to Florence next summer. But the purpose of our conversation was not the organization of my spare time or my next holiday. It would not be a failure if no such consequences followed from our dialogue, and if I stuck to my original plan to take Spanish lessons or to go to Istanbul.

By contrast, the word dialogue is sometimes used to describe a process of deliberation. I shall call this second form of dialogue “dialogue as deliberation.” In this sense, a dialogue still entails two or more persons, understood as equals, exchanging some words, ideas, opinions, feelings, and so forth, but the exchange is more formal and less spontaneous than in the dialogue as conversation. A dialogue as deliberation has specific mutual practical purposes: it aims at taking decisions in common; reaching agreement; solving problems or conflicts collectively; determining together which opinion or thesis is true, the most justified, or the best; or which particular practical view should govern actions or decisions. Town meetings that involve lawmaking by assembled voters is an example of dialogue as deliberation. In such meetings, citizens have an opportunity to debate budget questions and other issues before they are put to a vote. There are many other institutions or forums in which the members are entitled to debate among themselves the stronger thesis and the better argument; a jury or elected representative assembly are typical instances of dialogue as deliberation. Indeed, deliberative democracy theory, which postulates that legitimate lawmaking lies in the process of public deliberation by free and equal citizens, probably offers the most fully articulated model of dialogue as deliberation.67


The theory of institutional dialogue, as I shall understand it, has been put forward by Peter Hogg and Allison Thornton in Peter W. Hogg & Allison A. Bushell, The Charter Dialogue Between Courts and Legislatures (Or Perhaps the Charter of Rights Isn't Such A Bad Thing After All), 35 Osgoode Hall L.J. 75 (1997). See infra, section I.


I briefly recall the nature of this objection below, in section I.


Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act, 1982, 1982, c. 11 (U.K.) [hereinafter “the Charter”].


Section one provides: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The justificatory tests have been expounded by the Supreme Court in R. v. Oakes, [1986] 1 S.C.R. 103.


Section 33 provides: “(1) Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.…(3) A declaration made under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or on such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration. (4) Parliament or the legislature of a province may re-enact a declaration made under subsection (1). (5) Subsection (3) applies in respect of a re-enactment made under subsection (4).”


See, e.g., Mark Tushnet, Judicial Activism or Restraint in a Section 33 World, 53 U. Toronto L.J. 89 (2003).


See, e.g., Jürgen Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Christian Lenhart & Shierry Weber Nicholson trans., MIT Press 1991); Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms (William Rehg trans., MIT Press 1996); Bruce Ackerman, Why Dialogue?, 86 J. Phil. 5 (1989). See generally, Deliberative Democracy: Essays On Reason and Politics (James Bohman & William Rehg eds., MIT Press 1997).


See, e.g., Grundgesetz (German Basic Law), adopted in 1949; Const. S. Afr., adopted in 1993; and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Nov. 4, 1950, E.T.S. 5.


See, e.g., the American doctrine of due process of law and the tests articulated by the American Supreme Court as required by various levels of scrutiny.


My colleague Jean Leclair also concludes, for other reasons, that the theory is merely rhetorical. See Jean Leclair, Reflexions critiques au sujet de la métaphore du dialogue en droit constitutionnel canadien [Critical reflections on the metaphor of dialogue in Canadian constitutional law], 2003 Revue du Barreau (Numéro special) 379, 402–412.


See, Robert Bork, The Tempting of America (MacMillan 1990) (source-based/originalism); John Hart Ely, Democracy and Distrust (Harvard Univ. Press 1980) (process-based/pluralist-utilitarian democracy); Ronald Dworkin, Freedom's Law (Harvard Univ. Press 1996) (substance-based/egalitarian moral theory).


Motor Vehicle Act, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 486, 497.


Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803); Chief Justice Marshall said that “the people have an original right to establish for their future government such principles as, in their opinion, shall most conduce to their own happiness” and that “all those who have framed written constitutions contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nation, and, consequently, the theory of every such government must be, that an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void.” Id. at 176–177.


The phrase is borrowed from Bruce Ackerman, The Storrs Lectures: Discovering the Constitution, 93 Yale L.J. 1013 (1984). Indeed, this argument might not hold when the legislation has been enacted prior to the enactment of the constitution.


Id.; see also Bruce Ackerman, We The People: Foundations (Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press 1991).


See, e.g., Alexander Bickel, The Least Dangerous Branch 24 (Yale Univ. Press 1962).


I have put forward certain criticisms in Luc B. Tremblay, General Legitimacy of Judicial Review and the Fundamental Basis of Constitutional Law, 23 Oxford J. Leg. Stud. 525, 534–538 (2003).


I have explored this theme in various texts. See, e.g., Luc B. Tremblay, L'interprétation téléologique des droits constitutionnels [Teleological interpretation in constitutional law], 29 Rev. Jurid. Thémis 459 (1995); Luc B. Tremblay, Marbury v. Madison and Canadian Constitutionalism: Rhetoric and Practice, 37 Rev. Jurid. Thémis 375 (2003). More generally, see Luc B. Tremblay, Le droit a-t-il un sens? Réflexions sur le scepticisme juridique [Does the law have direction? Reflections on legal skepticism], 42 Revue Interdisciplinaire D'études Juridiques 13 (1999).


For a very good overview of different theories of institutional dialogue for the purposes of constitutional theory, see K. Roach, Constitutional and Common Law Dialogues Between the Supreme Court and Canadian Legislatures, 80 Can. B. Rev. 481, 490–501 (2001). See also Kent Roach, The Supreme Court on Trial: Judicial Activism or Democratic Dialogue (Irwin Law 2001).


See Hogg & Bushell, supra note 1. This version has been refined or endorsed by various scholars. See, e.g., Roach, supra note 19; A.Wayne MacKay, The Legislature, The Executive and the Courts: The Delicate Balance of Power or Who is Running the Country Anyway?, 24 Dalhousie L.J. 37 (2001).


Hogg and Bushell, supra note 1, at 79.


Section 33: “(1) Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.… (3) A declaration made under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or on such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration. (4) Parliament or the legislature of a province may re-enact a declaration made under subsection (1). (5) Subsection (3) applies in respect of a re-enactment made under subsection (4).”


Section one provides: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”


For example, section 7 provides: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” Section 8 states: “Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.”


Section 15 provides: “(1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”


Hogg and Bushell, supra note 1, at 105.


See Roach, supra note 19, at 530–531.


[1998] 1 S.C.R. 493, paras. 138–139.


Bill C-46, S.C. 1997, c. 30. It came into force on May 12, 1997 and amended the Criminal Code, R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46.


Mills, supra note 40, at para. 20.


See, e.g., Justice Bastarache in M. v. H., [1999] 2 S.C.R. 3, paras. 286, 328; Justice L'Heureux-Dubé in Corbiere v. Canada (Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs), [1999] 2 S.C.R. 203, para. 116; Justice Gonthier in Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer), [2002] 3 S.C.R. 519, paras. 104–108; Justice Major in Harper v. Canada (Attorney General), [2004] 1 S.C.R. 827, para. 37.


Christopher P. Manfredi & J. B. Kelly, Six Degrees of Dialogue: A Response to Hogg and Bushell, 37 Osgoode Hall L.J. 513 (1999). See also Christopher P. Manfredi, Judicial Power andThe Charter 176–181 (Oxford Univ. Press 2d ed. 2001).


Manfredi, supra note 47, at 520–521. For similar criticisms, see F. L. Morton and Rainer Knopff, The Charter Revolution & The Court Party 162–166 (Broadview Press 2000). In their view, the dialogue “is usually a monologue, with judges doing most of the talking and legislatures most of the listening.” Id. at 166. See also Tushnet, supra note 6.


Manfredi, supra note 47, at 515.


Id. at 524. See also Manfredi, supra note 47, at 178–181. This form of “genuine dialogue” corresponds to what other authors have called “coordinate construction.” See Roach, supra note 19, at 529. See also Dennis Baker & Rainer Knopff, Minority Retort: A Parliamentary Power to Resolve Judicial Disagreement in Close Cases, 21 Windsor Y.B. Access Just. 347 (2002)(they clearly argue in favour of “coordinate interpretation”). See also David Schneiderman, Kent Roach, the Supreme Court on Trial: Judicial Activism or Democratic Dialogue, 21 Windsor Y.B. Access Just. 633 (2002); Janet L. Hiebert, Charter Conflicts: What is Parliament's Role? 202 (McGill-Queen's Univ. Press)(proposing to conceive the shared responsibility with respect to constitutional interpretation in “relational” terms, instead of in terms of dialogue); Tushnet, supra note 6.


See, e.g., Roach, supra note 19; Baker & Knopff, supra note 51; Christopher P. Manfredi & James B. Kelly, Dialogue, Deference and Restraint: Judicial Independence and Trial Procedures, 64 Sask. L. Rev. 323 (2001).


The precedent established a common law procedure on the basis of Charter's values. See, supra notes 37–42.


Jamie Cameron, Dialogue and Hierarchy in Charter Interpretation: A Comment on R. v. Mills, (2000) 38 ALTA. L. REV. 1051 (2001).


Id. at 1068. According to Cameron, “either the Constitution is supreme or it is not. If it is supreme, Parliament could only overrule O'Connor, legislatively, by invoking s. 33. On that view, the Court's choices in Mills were to overrule O'Connor or to strike down parts of the legislation. Alternatively, if constitutional interpretation is not supreme, then s. 33 serves little purpose because the Court's interpretations of the Charter are collapsed into the political process.” Id. at 1062–1063. For similar criticisms, see Roland Penner, Charter Conflicts: What is Parliament's Role?, 28 Queen's L.J. 731 (2003); Leclair, supra note 10, at 402–412; David M. Paciocco, Competing Constitutional Rights in the Age of Deference: A Bad Time to be Accused, 14 Sup. Ct. L. Rev. (2d) 111 (2001); Don Stuart, Mills: Dialogue with Parliament and Equality by Assertion at What Cost?, 28 Crim. Rep. (5th) 275 (1999).


Leclair, supra note 10.


The phrase “judicial minimalism” can be associated with Cass Sunstein's works. See Cass Sunstein, One Case at a Time: Judicial Minimalism on The Supreme Court (Harvard Univ. Press 1999). Judicial Minimalism is similar in principle to Alexander Bickel's “passive virtues”. See Bickel, supra note 16.


Leclair, supra note 10, at 412–420. Leclair's criticisms and reflections use the application of the “reading in” doctrine of Vriend as his main target.


See, for example, Peter W. Hogg & Allison A. Thornton, Reply to “Six Degrees of Dialogue”, 37 Osgoode Hall L.J. 529 (1999); Manfredi & Kelly, supra note 52. For further refinements, see, for example, Kent Roach, American Constitutional Theory for Canadians (And the Rest of the World), 52 U. Toronto L.J. 503 (2002); Kent Roach, Remedial Consensus and Dialogue Under the Charter: General Declarations and Delayed Declarations of Invalidity, 35 U. B. C. L. Rev. 211 (2002).


See the various essays in Deliberative Democracy, supra note 7.

Essay on Judicial Activism Versus Judicial Restraint

605 WordsNov 7th, 20103 Pages

Judicial Activism Vs. Judicial Restraint The debate between Judicial Activism and Judicial Restraint really grabbed my attention. Judicial Activism and Judicial Restraint are two different ways to interpret the constitution and its laws. Both interpretations have their own strengths and weaknesses, which is why it is so hard to come to a final decision of which is acceptable and which is not (in most cases). While at the debate I didn’t realize how many cases have boiled down to these two concepts. There have been many cases ended up being decided by both interpretations. I believe Judicial Activism should be removed from the Supreme Court. The Original definition of Judicial Activism is defined as a philosophy of judicial decision-…show more content…

Stare Decisis plays a large role in Judicial Restraint. Stare Decisis is sticking to an established ruling that was handed down by past judges or jurors. A form of judicial restraint is called the political question doctrine, and it is significant in understanding this interpretation of the law. The political question doctrine is when a court acknowledges that the constitution is violated but does not decide to act. There are plenty of examples of Judicial Restraint throughout our history but the one that stands out the most in my mind is Gore Vs. Bush. In this case the Florida supreme courts methods of recounting the presidential ballots was considered and ruled as having violated the Equal Protection Laws which is under the fourteenth amendment in a presidential election. Everyone seems to know that something wrong was done, but no one really understands what happened. Before this debate I didn’t realize that this was an example of Judicial Restraint. And this is why I caint agree with either interpretations of the law. Both of these interpretations are ways to go around the laws already set in stone. I believe that there should be some type of law created to protect the constitution. I do not agree with either interpretations and I believe that they are both wrong. These are examples of flaws in the constitution that should be dealt with. As I listened to this debate I realized and understood more and more

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