Epstein makes the case for a ‘classical liberal’ Constitution

Richard Epstein explains for the Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas journal how his new book stakes out a path for constitutional interpretation that diverges from the traditional conservative vs. progressive split.

Conventional wisdom divides constitutional judges and scholars into two warring camps: conservative and progressive. The classical liberal offers a third point of view, by explaining how our Constitution secures a system of strong property rights and limited government. It does so by rejecting the deep antitheoretical strand that often guides both conservative and progressive thought, and leads both groups—for somewhat different reasons—to support a highly deferential, if misnamed, “rational basis” test to assess the constitutionality of congressional and legislative action. …

… Under the classical liberal constitution, maintaining a free and open market for both capital and labor is an essential government function, which resonates in the explicit guarantees with respect to contract, private property, and the freedom of speech and the press. These apparently disparate guarantees are all linked together by the common sentiment that the state must show a serious justification before it can limit their exercise. The class of justifications is not open-ended, and it never includes the anticompetitive and protectionist legislation that is routinely sustained based on a supposed need to correct abuses of the market that are unrelated to duress, fraud, and monopoly.

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