Measuring judicial activism on the Supreme Court of Canada: a comment on Newfoundland (Treasury Board) v. NAPE.

AuthorChoudhry, Sujit

In the recent Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal decision of Newfoundland (Treasury Board) v. NAPE, Justice Marshall accused the Supreme Court of Canada of "undue incursions ... into the policy domain of the elected branches of government ... " He added that these interpretation were happening more frequently and invited the Court to "revisit" its interpretation of section I of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in R. v. Oakes.

While politically interesting, the authors suggest that the ensuing public debate (over judicial activism and the role of an unelected judiciary with respect Io public policy in light of the Charter) missed an important point of engagement: whether or not the empirical claims on which Justice Marshall based his comments are an accurate depiction of the Court's behaviour when faced with the possibility of striking down a "majoritarian" decision. In canvassing the quantitative research that is currently available on the matter, it becomes apparent the data is incomplete as it is not tabulated with the nuances of Charier analyses in mind.

The authors attempt to fill the void by building on previous studies, and specifically by distinguishing their handling of the data with stricter definitions of applicable data points. Four hypotheses, drawn from the claims made in the NAPE judgement, are tested: (1) the Supreme Court strikes down majoritarian legislation often; (2) judicial activism is increasing over time: (3) judicial activism is largely the product of the Court's Charter analysis under section 1; and (4) the Charter's legislative override under section 33 has been deligitimized.

Ultimately, each of the four hypotheses is contradicted by the data: the government wins the overwhelming majority of constitutional challenges brought to majoritarian decisions; judicial activism has not increased over time; the government's success rate in the section 1 analysis is highly dependant on whether or not an internal limit is imposed on a protected right; and the level of judicial activism has not increased as a response to the deligitimaization of the section 33 override.

Whether the judiciary is "unduly" activist or not remains elusive, however. as there are three significant limitations to a study based, such as this one is, on the analysis of government "win rates". At the core, the ambiguous treatment of what is "appropriate" versus "undue" interference makes it difficult to determine whether the Court has exceeded the constitutional scope of its powers. The small data pool and the possibility of a selection bias increase the difficulty of the task at hand. The authors conclude that Justice Marshall's normative claims are based on assumptions that are highly suspect and that before the debate on the propriety of judicial activism proceeds any farther, more quantitative legal research should be conducted to determine whether or not the Court is actually activist.

Dam la decision Newfoundland (Treasury Bvard) v. NAPE, rendue recemment par la Cour d'appel de Terre-Neuve et du Labrador, le juge Marshall a accuse la Cour supreme du Canada de s'introduire indument dans les politiques publiques relevant de la branche elue du gouvernement. Ayant remarque une augmentation dans la frequence de telles incursions judiciaires, il a des lors invite la Cour a <> son interpretation de l'article l de la Charte canadienne des droits et libertes, telle que developpee dans l'arret R. c. Oakes.

Bien qu'etant intessant sur le plan politique, les auters affirment que le debat public inspire par la critique du juge Marshall (sur l'activisme judiciaire a la lumiere de la Charte) n'a pourtant pas su aborder un point important, a savois si les elements empisiques sur lesquels le juge a fonde ses commentaires repsentent une description juste et exacte du comportement de la Cour face a la possibilite d'annuler une decision <>. Or, a l'heure actuelle, les recherches quantitative en la matiere se revelent incompletes, et ne tiennent pas compte des nuances fondees sur l'analyse da la Charte.

Se basant sur ces etudes anterieures, les auteurs tentent de combler cette lacune en adoptant des definditions plus strictes des variables applicables en l'espece. Quatre hypotheses, tirees du jugement NAPE, sont ainsi examinees : (1) la Cour supreme annule souvent les legislations issues de decisions majorities; (2) l'activisme judiciaire s'accroit avec le temps ; (3) l'activisme judiciare est generalement exerce lors de l'analyse par la Cour de l'adicle I de la Charte ; et (4) la clause de derogation expresse prevue a l'alticle 33 de la Charte a perdu sa legitimite.

Les analyse demontrent que ces quatre hypotheses ne sont pas confirmees dans les faits : le gouvernement remporte une gande majorite des litiges qui remettent en question des decisions majoritaires sur le plan constitutionel ; l'activisme judiciaire ne s'est pas accru avec le temps ; le succes du gouvernement au niveau de l'analyse de l'article l depend largement da l'existence ou non de limites internes imposees sur le droit protege; le niveau d'activisme judiciare n'a pas augmente en reponse a la perte de legitimite de la clause de deroaation expmsse prevue a l'article 33,

La determination du caractere <>, de l'activisme judiciare demeure cependant encore difficile a etablir, etant donne les limites inherentes aux etudes bases sur une analyse des <> du gouvernement. Au centre de ces limites se trouve le traitement ambigu de ce qui est <> par rapport a <>, rendant ainsi difficile de determiner si la Cour a excede ou non la portee constitutionnelle de ses pouvoirs. Le caractere restreint de la base emphique et les possibles distorsions dans la selection des donnees augmentent par ailleurs cette difficulte. Les auters en arrivent neanmoins a la conclusion que les commentaires du juge Marshall demeurent fondes sur des hypotheses hautement questionnables, et que, avant de poursuivre plus loin le debat d'autres etudes quantitatives devraient effectuees afin de determiner si la Cour est effectivement activiste.

Introduction: Normative Critique, Empirical Premises I. Measuring Judicial Activism A. A Quantitative Definition of Judicial Activism B. Empirical Claims on Judicial Activism: Four Hypotheses C. Contextualizing the Claims II. Methodology A. Compiling the Data Set 1. What Is a Charter Case? 2. When Is a Case Counter-Majoritarian? 3. Correcting for Overcounting and Undercounting: Companion Cases and Multiple Provisions B. Coding the Judgments C. Assessing the Hypotheses in Light of the Data III. Results, Analysis, and Discussion A. Hypothesis 1: Judicial Activism Is High B. Hypothesis 2: Judicial Activism Is Increasing over Time C. Hypothesis 3: The Section 1 Analysis Is the Locus of Activism 1. Overview 2. Variation by Substantive Charter Right 3. Trends over Time D. Hypothesis 4: The Override Has Been Delegitimized Conclusion Appendix Introduction: Normative Critique, Empirical Premises

"Judicial activism has gone too far" (1) read the headline on the front page of The Globe and Mail the week after the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal handed down its judgment in Newfoundland (Treasury Board) v. Newfoundland Association of Public Employees (2) last December. Justice Marshall, speaking for a unanimous Court of Appeal, held that provincial legislation denying retroactive pay equalization to a group of female employees violated section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (3) but was saved under section 1 because it served a legitimate deficit-reducing purpose. Notwithstanding its importance, the particular issue decided by the Court of Appeal (the extent to which governments may depart from equality norms for fiscal reasons) generated little public interest. Instead, media attention focussed on a few remarkable paragraphs buffed in the middle of the 169 page judgment, in which Justice Marshall accused the Supreme Court of Canada of "undue incursions ... into the public domain of the elected branches of government ..." (4)

Interestingly, Justice Marshall did not rehearse the off-repeated claim that in constitutional adjudication, courts must not intrude on the making of public policy, accepting that "there has always been an element of policy making in judicial decisions ..." (5) He stressed instead that courts and legislatures have different roles with respect to public policy, with there being "no role in policy making for the judiciary beyond that consequential to passing upon whether executive and legislative measures achieved their intended policy through interpretations of their scope." (6) To do otherwise would contravene the "Separation of Powers Doctrine". (7) Against the backdrop of this cluster of constitutional ideas, Justice Marshall argued that the Supreme Court had overstepped the constitutional bounds of its limited policy making power in its Charter jurisprudence. The focus of his attack was the Supreme Court's interpretation of section 1 because of what he viewed as the Court's failure to be sufficiently deferential to legislative decisions. Thus, although he conceded that "s. 1 effectively invests [the judiciary] with responsibility to pass upon the justifiability of policy choices behind Charter infringements," (8) his concern was with the interpretation given to section 1 in the Oakes test. (9) In particular, the need for the means chosen by the government to satisfy the requirement of proportionality was found to be deeply problematic, because it "endows the judiciary with licence to stand in the shoes of the other branches of government as ultimate arbitrator of which policy choices were in the best interests of the governed." (10) As a consequence, Justice Marshall invited the Supreme Court to "revisit" the Oakes test, (11) warning of "real potential for heightening unease" (12) if the Court's activism continues unchecked.

Justice Marshall's comments on judicial activism, and his call for the...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT