Brief Fact Summary. The Archbishop of San Antonio challenged a city ordinance of Boerne under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). The Respondent argued the ordinance is an unconstitutional exercise of congressional power under Section: 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Congressional action under Section: 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution may be remedial or preventative in nature, but it may only enforce constitutional rights, not create substantive rights.
Issue. Can Congress create a substantive right under Section: 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution?
Held. No. Reversed and remanded.
The ability to create substantive constitutional rights under Section: 5 of the constitution would destroy the Constitution’s status as the supreme law of the land and relegate it to mere legal code.
The Supreme Court acknowledges remedial laws may also be preventative legislation, but says there must be congruence between the means and the ends to be achieved and proportionality to a remedial or preventative objective.
Dissent. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor (J. O’Connor) and David Souter (J. Souterg) dissented in part, largely due to their unhappiness with the Smith decision, which the majority upholds as precedent
Discussion. Boerne v. Flores slows down the expansion of Congressional authority under Section: 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The Supreme Court holds that Congress still has authority to “enforce” by passing legislation affecting otherwise constitutional state statutes, but it may only do so in a remedial or preventative manner. Congress may not create a substantive constitutional right.