Liberty in full : Justice Stephen Field's cooperative constitution of liberty.

Date
2014-05
Authors
Carrington, Adam M.
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Abstract

In this dissertation, I examine 19th century Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field’s understanding of liberty. Scholars often define Field’s liberty solely as opposition to government regulation. I challenge this position, arguing that Field articulated a fuller liberty, one which encompassed liberty both from and through government action. Justice Field saw the Constitution as pursuing this fuller liberty, with certain provisions protecting individual rights through government regulation and others by restraining such regulation. To show Field’s perspective, I focus on two sets of Constitutional provisions which Field saw as cooperating toward a full liberty. The first consisted of the Due Process Clause and the states’ police power. The Due Process Clause protected expansively-defined individual rights against impairing state action while the police power protected the same rights from non-governmental threats. The second set of provisions was state and national police power. I show how Field believed that all government wielded a police power for the purpose of protecting individual rights, with the state and national governments cooperating by pursuing this common purpose within their distinct spheres. I then turn to Field’s use of the Declaration of Independence and the common law to interpret liberty’s Constitutional meaning, showing how these documents displayed the context which informed the Constitution. Finally, I conclude with a brief discussion of how Field’s cooperative Constitution of liberty might provide a useful context for contemporary judicial debates over liberty’s meaning and application.

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Keywords
Supreme court., Constitutional law., Liberty., Late nineteenth century America., Due process., Police power., Fourteenth amendment.
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