Summary of Boerne v. Flores
Facts: Congress adopted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act purportedly pursuant to the Enabling Clause of the 14th Amendment, providing that a state may not burden religious practices absent a compelling interest.
Holding: Unconstitutional because it seeks to expand substantive First Amendment rights beyond those recognized by the SC.
Reasoning: Section 5 gives Congress the power to adopt appropriate legislation to enforce the 14th Amendment. It doesn’t give the power to define or create new constitutional rights (that is the function of the courts). Congress may only enact laws to prevent or remedy violations of rights already recognized by the courts.
Congress does not enforce a constitutional right by changing what that right is. It cannot determine what constitutes a constitutional violation (“compelling interest"). Line between preventing unconstitutional actions and making a substantive change in the law is a fine line.
Comments: Note: Congress’ power under Section 5 is limited to adopting measures to enforce the guarantees of the amendment; there is no power to restrict, abrogate or dilute these guarantees.