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  • Writer's picturePeter Serefine

Compelling State Interest: A Flawed Doctrine Disregarding Unalienable Rights

The doctrine of compelling state interest, employed by the judiciary when applying strict scrutiny, is often regarded as a mechanism to evaluate the constitutionality of laws that infringe upon fundamental rights. While intended to balance government interests with individual liberties, this doctrine is fundamentally flawed, as it indirectly acknowledges the violation of unalienable rights. Furthermore, unalienable means unalienable, and Supreme Court opinions allowing infringements of such rights do not hold the status of law.

Unalienable Rights: Beyond Government Reach

The concept of unalienable rights, also referred to as natural rights, holds that certain rights are inherent to human beings and are not contingent upon the existence of government. These rights are considered beyond the reach of government interference, and any attempt to violate or infringe upon them is viewed as illegitimate. Let’s explore some specific examples of unalienable rights and their significance in the context of the doctrine of compelling state interest.

Right to Life:

The right to life is perhaps the most fundamental of all unalienable rights. It is the right to exist and pursue one’s own goals and aspirations. This right is not granted by the government but is intrinsic to every individual simply by virtue of being human. The doctrine of compelling state interest would be directly challenged if the government attempted to restrict or curtail an individual’s right to life. Any law or policy that threatens the life of individuals would undoubtedly be an infringement upon this unalienable right.


Example: If the government were to pass a law that sanctioned the use of deadly force against a specific group of people based on their beliefs or ethnicity, it would directly violate the unalienable right to life. The doctrine of compelling state interest would be inadequate in justifying such a law, as no compelling interest could outweigh the inherent right to life.


Right to Liberty:


The right to liberty ensures that individuals have the freedom to act, speak, and pursue their interests without unwarranted interference. This right includes freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, and the ability to make personal choices without undue government intrusion. Any attempt by the government to restrict these liberties would be a direct challenge to the concept of unalienable rights.


Example: If the government were to enact legislation that limited the freedom of speech, suppressing dissenting voices and critical opinions, it would be infringing upon the unalienable right to liberty. No compelling state interest could justify curtailing such an essential aspect of individual autonomy and self-expression.


Right to Pursue Happiness:


The right to pursue happiness encompasses the idea that individuals have the autonomy to seek fulfillment, contentment, and personal satisfaction. It is not the government’s role to dictate what happiness means for its citizens, as this is a deeply personal and individual pursuit. Any law or policy that obstructs or hinders an individual’s pursuit of happiness would be in direct opposition to unalienable rights.


Example: If the government were to enact laws that restricted certain professions or pursuits, preventing individuals from pursuing their passions and vocations, it would be infringing upon the unalienable right to pursue happiness. The doctrine of compelling state interest would fall short in justifying such restrictions, as personal fulfillment and happiness are inherent to human nature.

Unalienable rights are a cornerstone of the American ethos, as they transcend the authority of government and are considered beyond its reach.


The doctrine of compelling state interest, while intended to balance government interests with individual liberties, cannot justify any infringement upon these unalienable rights. The examples provided demonstrate that certain rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are inherent and inalienable. Upholding and protecting these unalienable rights is essential for maintaining a just and free society that respects the inherent dignity and autonomy of every individual.


Compelling State Interest: An Acknowledgment of Violation


The doctrine of compelling state interest, as applied in strict scrutiny, becomes an alarming acknowledgment of the violation of unalienable rights. By subjecting fundamental rights to a test that requires the government to demonstrate a compelling reason for infringing upon them, the doctrine implicitly concedes that such rights are not immune to governmental interference. This erosion of the sacred nature of unalienable rights is evident in various real-world examples where the doctrine has been invoked to justify the infringement of individual liberties.


Example 1: Freedom of Speech and National Security

In the context of national security, the government has often used the doctrine of compelling state interest to justify limitations on the freedom of speech. One example is the case of "Schenck v. United States" (1919), where the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Charles Schenck under the Espionage Act for distributing anti-draft leaflets during World War I. The Court ruled that the government's interest in maintaining military recruitment and preserving national security was compelling enough to restrict Schenck's First Amendment rights.


While the government's concern for national security is undoubtedly crucial, the application of the doctrine in this case suggests that freedom of speech can be compromised when perceived as a threat to national interests. This raises the question of whether unalienable rights are truly inalienable when their exercise poses a challenge to the government's interests.


Example 2: Second Amendment and Public Safety

The right to bear arms, protected by the Second Amendment, has also faced challenges under the doctrine of compelling state interest, particularly concerning public safety. In cases such as "District of Columbia v. Heller" (2008) and "McDonald v. City of Chicago" (2010), the Supreme Court clarified that individuals have an individual right to possess firearms for self-defense within their homes.

However, this right has been subject to various restrictions based on the government's interest in maintaining public safety. For instance, states have imposed stringent regulations on the carrying of firearms in public places or imposed bans on certain types of firearms, justifying these measures as necessary to prevent gun violence and protect the public. While public safety is undeniably important, the application of the doctrine raises concerns about the extent to which unalienable rights can be curtailed when balanced against governmental interests.


The doctrine of compelling state interest, as applied in strict scrutiny, presents a troublesome quandary in its implicit acknowledgment that unalienable rights are not immune from government infringement. The examples provided demonstrate that fundamental rights have been subject to scrutiny and limitation, based on the government's perceived compelling interests. This compromises the essence of unalienable rights, which are meant to be absolute and inviolable.


To safeguard individual liberties and the sanctity of unalienable rights, it is essential to challenge the notion that government interests can ever outweigh the inherent and inalienable rights of the people. A society that truly cherishes freedom and justice for all must reject the flawed doctrine of compelling state interest and reaffirm the unalienable nature of these rights as enshrined in the very fabric of the Constitution.


Judicial Activism: Erosion of Unalienable Rights


The doctrine of compelling state interest, when misapplied through judicial activism, has contributed to the erosion of unalienable rights. Certain Supreme Court opinions, instead of strictly adhering to the original intent of the Constitution, have interpreted the doctrine in a way that allows for the government to impose restrictions on fundamental rights under vaguely defined or loosely justified compelling interests. Here are some specific examples of how judicial activism has undermined unalienable rights:


1. Roe v. Wade (1973):

In the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that a woman's right to choose to have an abortion fell within the right to privacy protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court's decision established a woman's right to abortion, but it did so by asserting a compelling state interest in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. This ruling effectively allowed states to impose restrictions on abortion after fetal viability, which undermined the unalienable right to life for unborn children.


2. District of Columbia v. Heller (2008):

In Heller, the Supreme Court affirmed an individual's right to possess firearms for self-defense in their home, as protected by the Second Amendment. However, the Court also recognized that the government has a compelling interest in regulating certain categories of firearms and individuals, such as felons and the mentally ill, from possessing firearms. While reasonable regulations may be necessary to protect public safety, the Court's interpretation left room for potential infringements on the unalienable right to keep and bear arms.


3. Obergefell v. Hodges (2015):

In Obergefell, the Supreme Court held that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, finding that the right to marry is a fundamental right protected by the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. While the decision recognized the right to marry for same-sex couples, it also implied that the government had a compelling interest in promoting traditional marriage, indirectly suggesting that the unalienable right to marry can be limited or redefined by the state.


4. National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012):

In this case, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, which required individuals to purchase health insurance or face a penalty. The Court justified the mandate under Congress's power to tax, deeming it a valid exercise of the government's compelling interest in regulating the healthcare market. However, the ruling effectively allowed the government to impose a financial burden on individuals who chose not to purchase health insurance, which raised questions about individual liberty and the unalienable right to make personal decisions.


The doctrine of compelling state interest, when subject to judicial activism, has led to interpretations that weaken unalienable rights protected by the Constitution. While certain regulations may be necessary to protect public safety and the common good, it is essential to strike a delicate balance that upholds individual liberties and acknowledges the inviolable nature of unalienable rights. To preserve the integrity of the Constitution and safeguard unalienable rights, it is crucial for the judiciary to adhere to the original intent of the Framers and ensure that compelling state interests do not erode the foundation of individual liberties enshrined in our nation's founding principles.


The doctrine of compelling state interest, employed under strict scrutiny, is inherently problematic as it indirectly accepts the infringement of unalienable rights. Unalienable rights are not subject to government negotiation or justification; they are inherent and sacrosanct. Supreme Court opinions that allow for infringements on these rights undermine the very foundation of the Constitution and erode the rule of law. To preserve the integrity of the Constitution and protect individual liberties, we must reject the flawed doctrine and unequivocally defend the unalienable rights of every citizen. Only then can we truly ensure a society that upholds the principles of freedom and justice for all.


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