If you’re reading Liberty & Law, you’ve probably read the term “judicial engagement.” You’re also probably familiar with the idea that state constitutions, not just the U.S. Constitution, have a vital role to play in protecting individual liberties.
Over the years, IJ has won many victories for entrepreneurs, property owners, and others by pointing to or reinvigorating state constitutional provisions. But as conversations and debates about judicial engagement increase, we have seen that most of the discussion about the concept centers on the federal Constitution and how judges enforce—or fail to enforce—it.
At IJ’s Center for Judicial Engagement, we thought it was time to spread the judicial engagement message to advocates and scholars of state constitutions as well. That’s why, in February 2020, we sponsored IJ’s first Judicial Engagement State Forum. Each conference in this new series will apply the idea of judicial engagement to a particular state constitution and ask how that constitution can be better enforced against state and local governments.
Our inaugural forum was in Minnesota at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and featured a wide-ranging discussion of the Minnesota Constitution and the duty of Minnesota judges to engage with it. We chose Minnesota because of IJ’s long presence there—we opened an office in Minneapolis in 2005—and our years of experience using the state’s constitution to protect individual rights.
Forum speakers ranged from practitioners to academics to judges themselves. Justice G. Barry Anderson of the Minnesota Supreme Court gave the keynote address, and he mentioned several Minnesota cases in his remarks, including one of IJ’s. Later, panels of experts debated topics including why state judges don’t do more to engage with the Minnesota Constitution, the importance of legal education when it comes to the state constitution, and constitutional provisions that need more attention and enforcement.
Building on our experience in Minnesota, our next stop, on May 14, is the home of the U.S. Constitution itself: Philadelphia. Our focus this spring will be the Pennsylvania Constitution and how judicial engagement can better bring its protections to Pennsylvanians. If you live near Philadelphia—or if you’re willing to travel—you are invited to attend the forum! Just look up the Center for Judicial Engagement at ij.org/center-for-judicial-engagement.
Anthony Sanders is the director of IJ’s Center for Judicial Engagement.