City of Boerne v. Flores Case Brief

Summary of City of Boerne v. Flores
521 U.S. 507

Federal Power to Regulate Private Conduct under the 14th – Interpretive Power

Relevant Facts: The St. Peter Catholic Church in Boerne TX, had grown too small for its parishioners and the archbishop gave permission to enlarge the building.Shortly afterward the City passed an ordinance conferring power to the Historic Comm’n to authorize or deny construction plans affecting historic landmarks. As such the Comm’n denied the application of the Church.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the RFRA can be considered enforcement legislation under the 14th Amendment and if so whether Congress exceeded its constitutional power?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: Archbishop Flores brought action challenging denial of permit, under RFRA; D. Ct. “Congress, by enacting RFRA, exceeded." 5th Ct App.Reversed, RFRA constitutional; S. Ct. reversed.

Law or Rule(s): The 14th Amendment – no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges (1stAmendment’s free exercise of religion); nor deprive liberty without D. Process of law.

Court Rationale: [Marbury] “The powers of the legislature are defined and limited, and that those limits my not be mistaken, or forgotten," is one enumerated power under the Constitution. Congress cannot enforce a constitut. right by changing what the right is. It has been given the power to enforce, not to determine what constitutes a constitutional violation. The design of the 14th was in order to maintain the traditional separation of powers between Congress and the judiciary. IF Congress could define its own power by altering the 14th’s meaning, the Consti. would no longer be “superior paramount law unchangeable by ordinary means." It would be on a level with other ordinary legislative acts. The RFRA is not remedial or preventative legislation. RFRA applies to every level of govt as though it were a Constitutional Amendment w/o termination.

Plaintiff’s Argument: (pet/City) The RFRA is not valid enforcement legislation, it is definitional in the sense that it purports to define to what extent a right can be restricted by the States.

Defendant’s Argument:(resp Flores) The RFRA is permissible enforcement legislation, b/c Congress is only protecting liberties guaranteed by D. Process Cl. of 14th, that is the free exercise of religion.

Congruent and Proportional Test : There must be a similarity likeness and a balanced parallel between the injury to be prevented or remedied and the means adopted.

[Verner ] Test was compelling interest. Substantial burden of the law upon religion must be justified by a compelling govt interest. [Smith] Neutral generally applicable laws may be applied to religious practices even when not supported by a compelling govt interest.



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