Congressional Statutory Responses to Supreme Court Precedent: Comparing the Breadth and Potency of Statutes Invalidated by the Rehnquist Court and Analogous Statutes Subsequently Repassed by Congress
Goldberger, Justin Nathaniel
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Many people assume that when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates a federal statute as unconstitutional, the Court's decision establishes binding precedent that narrows the U.S. Congress's available options. This thesis examines whether Congress has in practice been able to effectively circumvent Supreme Court precedents while still acting consistently with such precedents in a narrow sense by not repassing an identical statute. More specifically, this work explores whether the U.S. Congress was able to repass new statutes similar to those previously invalidated by the Rehnquist Court (1986-2005). To more fully probe this issue, this study examines how often Congress has responded in such a manner, how successful Congress was in replicating the initial invalidated statute's breadth and potency, the success of the amended statute's subsequent implementation or whether the new statutes survived judicial scrutiny, and lastly, whether legislative policy goals or Court precedents prevailed. The research focused on the Rehnquist Court because it invalidated an unprecedented 34 federal statutes. This analysis found that Congress offered 11 proposals, but only repassed four statutes attempting to replicate the initial invalidated statutes. Nevertheless, in the four instances of successful reenactment, Congress was able to achieve, in practice, indistinguishable potency and breadth in two statutes and identical potency with significantly narrower breadth in one statute. This work is significant because it demonstrates that occasionally Congress has utilized available tools—in this case repassing analogous statutes—to effectively counter Supreme Court precedents. The Supreme Court is not always the exclusive or irrevocable arbitrator of constitutional controversies.
- Masters Theses