Structural Exceptionalism and Comparative Constitutional Law

For over the past two decades, there has been an ongoing debate over whether the Supreme Court should rely on comparative constitutional law when interpreting the U.S. Constitution.This Note offers an exceptionalist critique of the practice. Specifically, it argues that the U.S. Constitution’s exceptional view of the role of the judiciary cautions against this use of comparative constitutional law. The U.S. Constitution is rare among contemporary charters in its reflection of the belief that the judicial branch should be confined to matters of law instead of questions of policy. This separation of law and politics is primarily expressed in the relative absence of institutional safeguards to control the federal judiciary. Whereas architects of foreign constitutions expected some judicial policy-making and consequently built in ex ante and/or ex post controls into their systems, the U.S. Constitution treats the judiciary as a relatively unthreatening institution. This Note contends that when the Supreme Court draws on the constitutional law of these countries without their accompanying safeguards, it risks that the reasoning of foreign judges will operate unconstrained by the checks they took for granted and lead to unintended costs for American society.