Electoral Jurisprudence in the Canadian and U.S. Supreme Courts: Evolution and Convergence

Article excerpt

An ongoing theme in the study of American and Canadian constitutional law is the difference in the two nations' constitutional traditions and the correspondingly divergent paths taken by the two Supreme Courts when interpreting democratic rights. The authors argue that a convergence in the two nations' judicial thought has occurred in recent Supreme Court decisions dealing with voting rights in particular and with the electoral process in general This convergence is clearly manifested in lines of cases culminating in recent campaign-spending decisions in Canada (Harper v. Canada (A.G)) and the United States (McConnell v. Federal Election Commission and Randall v Sorrell). The two courts sustained campaign-spending restrictions for essentially the same reasons. Yet the dissenters in both courts expressed almost identical fears about the threats that such spending restrictions posed to the integrity of the democratic process. Thus, the complexities of the "political thicket" of election law have drawn the American and Canadian Supreme Courts together. Both courts acknowledge that competitiveness is a key component of a meaningful electoral process and that incumbent political powers may cloak barriers to competition in the mantle of legislation designed to reform the political process or make it fairer. This evolution and convergence in judicial thought has caused both Supreme Courts to reassess their roles as protectors of individual rights and checks upon their legislatures.

Parmi les themes recurrents du domaine du droit constitutionnel americain et canadien, on retrouve celui de la difference entre tes traditions constitutionnelles des deux etats, ainsi que celui des parcours divergents des deux Cours supremes dans leur interpretation des droits democratiques. Les auteurs suggerent que des decisions recentes rendues par ces Cours supremes revelent une convergence au niveau de la pensee juridique en ce qui a trait aux droits de vote en particulier, et au processus electoral en general. Cette convergence se manifeste clairement dans une foulee d'arrets cuhninant avec les decisions recentes traitant des depenses de campagne electorale au Canada (Harper c. Canada (P.G)) et aux etats-Unis (McConnell v. Federal Election Commission et Randall v. Sorrell). Les deux cours ont soutenu des restrictions sur les depenses de campagne electorale. Cependant, dans chacune des cours, la dissidence a exprime des inquietudes quasi identiques quant aux menaces a l'integrite du processus democratique que pourraient poser de telles restrictions. Ainsi, c'est la complexite de la futaie politique du droit electoral qui a su rapprocher les Cours supremes americaine et canadienne. Les deux cours reconnaissent que la competitivite represente un element clef d'un processus electoral convenable et que les titulaires du pouvoir politique peuvent voiler les obstacles a la concurrence par le biais de projets legislatifs axes sur la reforme ou l'equite du processus politique. Cette evolution et convergence de la pensee juridique a precipite un questionnement au sein des deux cours sur leur role au niveau de la protection des droits individuels et sur la necessite de mettre un frein au pouvoir legislatif.


  I. Commonalities
 II. Terms of Discourse
III. American Individualism? The Canadian Understanding
     of Buckley v. Valeo
 IV. A Different Canadian Vision? The Egalitarian and Libertarian
     Conceptions of Democracy in Canada
     A. Background: The Egalitarian Mode in the Canadian
     B. The Development of the Egalitarian Model in the
        Canadian Court
        1. Libman v. Quebec (A. G)
        2. Figueroa v. Canada (A. G)
        3. Harper v. Canada (A.G): The Retreat from the
           Egalitarian Model?
  V. The Dark Side of the Egalitarian Vision? Chief Justice
     McLachlin's Break with the Court
 VI. An American Parallel: The Canadianization of American
     Electoral Law? …