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Holistic Interpretation: Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer and Our Bifurcated Constitution

Vicki C. Jackson
Stanford Law Review
Vol. 53, No. 5, Symposium: Shifting the Balance of Power? The Supreme Court, Federalism, and State Sovereign Immunity (May, 2001), pp. 1259-1310
Published by: Stanford Law Review
DOI: 10.2307/1229542
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1229542
Page Count: 52
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Holistic Interpretation: Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer and Our Bifurcated Constitution
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Abstract

Under current Eleventh Amendment doctrine as articulated in Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer and Seminole Tribe v. Florida, Congress has power to abrogate states' constitutional immunity from suit when acting under the Fourteenth Amendment but not when it enacts legislation under Article I powers. The premise for this difference is that the Fourteenth Amendment in some way modified or limited the immunity provided by the Eleventh. This essay asks why we should not read other preexisting parts of the Constitution-including Article I powers of Congress-as having been modified by the Fourteenth Amendment as well. It suggests that looking at earlier parts of the Constitution through more recent amendments helps reconcile constitutionalism with democracy and notes that in other cases, including Bolling v. Sharpe and the Selective Draft Law Cases, the Court has engaged in this form of interpretation. Observing that the Court has recently adopted a more holistic, structural approach to understanding states' immunities under the Constitution, it suggests applying a structural holistic approach, incorporating the intertemporal perspective evidenced in Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, to the scope of Congress' powers. Considering Congress' Article I powers together with and in the light of Congress' Fourteenth Amendment powers might lead to the conclusion that, where Congress is seeking to remove barriers to the participation in the national economy of historically disadvantaged groups like women or racial minorities, its Article I Commerce Clause powers should be read in light of the later Constitution's commitments to equality. This approach would support a longer chain of connection than might otherwise be permitted under United States v. Lopez and lead to a different result in United States v. Morrison. Finally, the essay raises the question of whether reading Article I powers in light of the Fourteenth Amendment's commitment to national citizenship might afford a basis (without having to overrule Seminole Tribe) for permitting congressional abrogation of state immunity from suit under Article I statutes.

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