A Floor, Not a Ceiling: Federalism and Remedies for Violations of Constitutional Rights in Danforth v. Minnesota

By Ilya Somin
July 03, 2008
Few doubt that states can provide greater protection for individual rights under state constitutions than is available under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Federal Constitution. More diffi cult issues arise, however, when state courts seek to provide greater protection than the Court requires for federal constitutional rights. Can state courts impose remedies for violations of federal constitutional rights that are more generous than those required by the federal Supreme Court? That is the issue raised by the Court’s recent decision in Danforth v. Minnesota. In a 7-2 decision joined by an unusual coalition of liberal and conservative justices, the Court decided that state courts could indeed provide victims of constitutional rights violations broader remedies than those mandated by federal Supreme Court decisions. I contend that this outcome is correct, despite the seeming incongruity of allowing state courts to deviate from the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Federal Constitution. Th e Supreme Court should establish a floor for remedies below which states cannot fall. But there is no reason for it to also mandate a ceiling....