November 18, 2022

James Fleming

Harvard Book Store and the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics welcome law professor JAMES FLEMING for a discussion of his new book Constructing Basic Liberties: A Defense of Substantive Due Process.


From reproductive rights to marriage for same-sex couples, many of our basic liberties owe their protection to landmark Supreme Court decisions that have hinged on the doctrine of substantive due process. This doctrine is controversial—a battleground for opposing views around the relationship between law and morality in circumstances of moral pluralism—and is deeply vulnerable today.

Against recurring charges that the practice of substantive due process is dangerously indeterminate and irredeemably undemocratic, Constructing Basic Liberties reveals the underlying coherence and structure of substantive due process and defends it as integral to our constitutional democracy. Reviewing the development of the doctrine over the last half-century, James E. Fleming rebuts popular arguments against substantive due process and shows that the Supreme Court has constructed basic liberties through common law constitutional interpretation: reasoning by analogy from one case to the next and making complex normative judgments about what basic liberties are significant for personal self-government.

Elaborating key distinctions and tools for interpretation, Fleming makes a powerful case that substantive due process is a worthy practice that is based on the best understanding of our constitutional commitments to protecting ordered liberty and securing the status and benefits of equal citizenship for all.

About Author(s)

James E. Fleming is the Honorable Paul J. Liacos Professor of Law at Boston University School of Law. His many books include Fidelity to Our Imperfect Constitution; Ordered Liberty; Constitutional Interpretation; Securing Constitutional Democracy; and American Constitutional Interpretation. He has held faculty research fellowships at Princeton University’s Program in Law and Public Affairs and Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics. He is the former editor of Nomos, the annual book of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy, and the past president of the society.