Public Reason as Highest Law

Research paper by Gordon Ballingrud

Indexed on: 28 Oct '17Published on: 09 Aug '17Published in: Law and Philosophy


This essay addresses Rawls’ claim in Political Liberalism that the U.S. Supreme Court would have power to overturn an amendment repealing the First Amendment. I argue that the argument succeeds if one conceives of public reason as a theory of constitutional lawmaking. This theory is founded on Rawls’ unique contributions to the concept of public reason: the criterion of reciprocity, and the content, given by a family of reasonable conceptions of political justice. This conception of public reason imports substantive moral commitments into democratic theory, and thereby limits what may count as law. This essay reconstructs Rawls’ reasoning by developing a theory of public reason as law higher even than constitutional law, and then to use this theory to analyze and critique other theories, such as Ackerman’s constitutional moment.