My good friend Matthew Franck has turned his considerable wit to the task of gleaning the meaning of due process from the history of our jurisprudence, English and American. And the account he published recently in American Political Thought—entitled “What Happened to the Due Process Clause in the Dred Scott Case? The Continuing Confusion over ‘Substance’ versus ‘Process’”—must surely stand as one of the most searching and thoughtful in recent memory.
The lawyers and writers most concerned about “substantive due process” have also been the most reserved about natural law and natural rights. They have regarded as a high judicial offense the willingness of judges to import into their decisions notions of rights, or natural justice, that are not contained in the text of the Constitution. They tend to hold fiercely to a law composed of “procedures,” and to the strict terms of the positive law.
But as the question is opened to a closer, more probing view—and opened by Franck’s piece—I think it becomes all the clearer that the difference between “substantive” and “procedural” due process fades away: that the issue simply cannot claim the moral import that has been attached to it, or be as portentous in our constitutional law as the critics of “substantive due process” have long thought it to be.