Right to Due Process: Overview
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Standing by itself, the phrase “due process” would seem to refer solely and simply to procedure, to process in court, and therefore to be so limited that “due process of law” would be what the legislative branch enacted it to be. But that is not the interpretation which has been placed on the term. “It is manifest that it was not left to the legislative power to enact any process which might be devised. The article is a restraint on the legislative as well as on the executive and judicial powers of the government, and cannot be so construed as to leave Congress free to make any process ‘due process of law’ by its mere will.” 1 All persons within the territory of the United States are entitled to its protection, including corporations,2 aliens,3 and presumptively citizens seeking readmission to the United States,4 but States as such are not so entitled.5 It is effective in the District of Columbia6 and in territories which are part of the United States,7 but it does not apply of its own force to unincorporated territories.8 Nor does it reach enemy alien belligerents tried by military tribunals outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.9
Early in our judicial history, a number of jurists attempted to formulate a theory of natural rights—natural justice, which would limit the power of government, especially with regard to the property rights of persons.10 State courts were the arenas in which this struggle was carried out prior to the Civil War. Opposing the “vested rights” theory of protection of property were jurists who argued first, that the written constitution was the supreme law of the State and that judicial review could look only to that document in scrutinizing legislation and not to the “unwritten law” of “natural rights,” and second, that the “police power” of government enabled legislatures to regulate the use and holding of property in the public interest, subject only to the specific prohibitions of the written constitution. The “vested rights” jurists thus found in the “law of the land” and the “due process” clauses of the state constitutions a restriction upon the substantive content of legislation, which prohibited, regardless of the matter of procedure, a certain kind or degree of exertion of legislative power altogether.11 Thus, Chief Justice Taney was not innovating when, in the Dred Scott case, he pronounced, without elaboration, that one of the reasons that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional was that an act of Congress that deprived “a citizen of the United States of his liberty or property, merely because he came himself or brought his property into a particular territory of the United States, and who had committed no offence against the laws, could hardly be dignified with the name of due process of law.” 12 Following the war, with the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, substantive due process interpretations were urged on the Supreme Court with regard to state legislation. First resisted, the arguments came in time to be accepted, and they imposed upon both federal and state legislation a firm judicial hand that was not to be removed until the crisis of the 1930s, and that today in non-economic legislation continues to be reasserted.
“It may prevent confusion, and relieve from repetition, if we point out that some of our cases arose under the provisions of the Fifth and others under those of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Although the language of those Amendments is the same, yet as they were engrafted upon the Constitution at different times and in widely different circumstances of our national life, it may be that questions may arise in which different constructions and applications of their provisions may be proper.” 13 The most obvious difference between the two Due Process Clauses is that the Fifth Amendment clause as it binds the Federal Government coexists with other express provisions in the Bill of Rights guaranteeing fair procedure and non-arbitrary action, such as jury trials, grand jury indictments, and nonexcessive bail and fines, as well as just compensation, whereas the Fourteenth Amendment clause as it binds the states has been held to contain implicitly not only the standards of fairness and justness found within the Fifth Amendment’s clause but also to contain many guarantees that are expressly set out in the Bill of Rights. In that sense, the two clauses are not the same thing, but, insofar as they impose such implicit requirements of fair trials, fair hearings, and the like, which exist separately from, though they are informed by, express constitutional guarantees, the interpretation of the two clauses is substantially, if not wholly, the same. Save for areas in which the particularly national character of the Federal Government requires separate treatment, this book's discussion of the meaning of due process is largely reserved for the section on the Fourteenth Amendment. Finally, some Fourteenth Amendment interpretations have been carried back to broaden interpretations of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, such as, for example, the development of equal protection standards as an aspect of Fifth Amendment due process.
Due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments can be broken down into two categories: procedural due process and substantive due process. Procedural due process, based on principles of “fundamental fairness,” addresses which legal procedures are required to be followed in state proceedings. Relevant issues, as discussed in detail below, include notice, opportunity for hearing, confrontation and cross-examination, discovery, basis of decision, and availability of counsel. Substantive due process, although also based on principles of “fundamental fairness,” is used to evaluate whether a law can be applied by states at all, regardless of the procedure followed. Substantive due process has generally dealt with specific subject areas, such as liberty of contract or privacy, and over time has alternately emphasized the importance of economic and noneconomic matters. In theory, the issues of procedural and substantive due process are closely related. In reality, substantive due process has had greater political import, as significant portions of a state legislature’s substantive jurisdiction can be restricted by its application.
Although the extent of the rights protected by substantive due process may be controversial, its theoretical basis is firmly established and forms the basis for much of modern constitutional case law. Passage of the Reconstruction Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th) gave the federal courts the authority to intervene when a state threatened fundamental rights of its citizens,14 and one of the most important doctrines flowing from this is the application of the Bill of Rights to the states through the Due Process Clause.15 Through the process of “selective incorporation,” most of the provisions of the first eight Amendments, such as free speech, freedom of religion, and protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, are applied against the states as they are against the federal government. Though application of these rights against the states is no longer controversial, the incorporation of other substantive rights, as is discussed in detail below, has been.
- Murray's Lessee v. Hoboken Land & Improvement Co., 59 U.S. (18 How.) 272, 276 (1856). Webster had made the argument as counsel in Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518 (1819). See also Chief Justice Shaw’s opinion in Jones v. Robbins, 74 Mass. (8 Gray) 329 (1857).
- Sinking Fund Cases, 99 U.S. 700, 719 (1879).
- Wong Wing v. United States, 163 U.S. 228, 238 (1896).
- United States v. Ju Toy, 198 U.S. 253, 263 (1905); cf. Quon Quon Poy v. Johnson, 273 U.S. 352 (1927).
- South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 323–24 (1966).
- Wight v. Davidson, 181 U.S. 371, 384 (1901).
- Lovato v. New Mexico, 242 U.S. 199, 201 (1916).
- Public Utility Comm’rs v. Ynchausti & Co., 251 U.S. 401, 406 (1920).
- Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U.S. 763 (1950); In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 (1946). Justices Rutledge and Murphy in the latter case argued that the Due Process Clause applies to every human being, including enemy belligerents.
- Compare the remarks of Justices Chase and Iredell in Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 386, 388–89, 398–99 (1798).
- The full account is related in E. Corwin, Liberty Against Government ch. 3 (1948). The pathbreaking decision of the era was Wynhamer v. The People, 13 N.Y. 378 (1856).
- Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393, 450 (1857).
- French v. Barber Asphalt Paving Co., 181 U.S. 324, 328 (1901).
- The Privileges or Immunities Clause, more so than the Due Process Clause, appears at first glance to speak directly to the issue of state intrusions on substantive rights and privileges— “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States . . . .” See Akhil Reed Amar, The Bill of Rights 163–180 (1998). As discussed earlier, however, the Court limited the effectiveness of that clause soon after the ratification of the 14th Amendment. See Privileges or Immunities, supra. Instead, the Due Process Clause, though selective incorporation, became the basis for the Court to recognize important substantive rights against the states.
- See Bill of Rights, Fourteenth Amendment, supra.
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