Academic journal article Review of Constitutional Studies

The Supreme Court in Canada's Constitutional Order

Academic journal article Review of Constitutional Studies

The Supreme Court in Canada's Constitutional Order

Article excerpt

The majority opinion in the Supreme Court Act Reference tells a story about the role of the Supreme Court of Canada within the Canadian constitutional order. The story chronicles the evolution of the Court since Confederation, culminating in the conclusion that the Court and some of its key features are now essential to the Constitution of Canada. This account relies on well-established ideas in Canadian constitutionalism, in particular, that the constitutional work of the Court is captured by the metaphors of 'umpire' and 'guardian,' and that the Court is the final legal voice on matters of constitutional interpretation. This paper contests the narrative told in the Reference, arguing that the story tidies up Canadian constitutionalism in ways that cultivate an inaccurate account of the Supreme Court's relationship to the constitution. In particular, the account overestimates the supremacy of the Court's constitutional interpretations and understates the nature of the Court's role in constitutional disputes. Moreover, it mischaracterizes the stability of the Court's position in the constitutional architecture. That position is not enshrined at the apex of a legal pyramid, but rather shifts within the architecture of the constitution as interpretive authority is taken up by a range of decision-makers. Ultimately, the arguments offered in this paper do not target the outcome of the Reference. Instead the aim is to enrich the starting point for assessing the ways in which the Court might--and might not--be "constitutionally essential."

L'opinion majoritaire dans le Renvoi relatif a la Loi sur la Cour supreme raconte une histoire sur le role de la Cour supreme du Canada au sein de I'ordre constitutionnel canadien. Cette histoire fait la chronique de l'evolution de la Cour depuis la federation, menant a la conclusion que la Cour et certaines de ses caracteristiques cles sont desormais essentielles a la Constitution du Canada. Ce compte rendu se fonde sur des idees bien etablies dans le constitutionnalisme canadien, notamment que les travaux constitutionnels de la Cour sont rendus par les metaphores suivantes : << arbitre >> et << gardien >> et que la Cour est la voix juridique suprime en matiere de questions portant sur l'interpretation constitutionnelle. L'auteure de cet article conteste le recit racont? dans le Renvoi et soutient que cette histoire range le constitutionnalisme canadien d'une facon qui cultive un compte rendu inexact du rapport de la Cour supreme a la constitution. En particulier, ce compte rendu surestime la suprematie des interpretations constitutionnelles de la Cour et sous-estime la nature du role de la Cour dans les litiges constitutionnels. En outre, il represente mal la stabilite de la position de la Cour dans l'architecture constitutionnelle. Cette position nest pas consacree au sommet de la pyramide juridique mais plutot, comme le pouvoir d'interpretation est accapare par divers decideurs, elle se deplace a Vinterieur de l'architecture de la constitution. En fin de compte, les arguments invoques dans cet article ne visent pas le resultat du Renvoi. Le but est plutot d'enrichir le point de depart d'un examen des moyens que la Cour pourrait--et nepourraitpas--etre << essentielle sur le plan constitutionnel>>.

Introduction

The majority opinion in the Supreme Court Act Reference (1) ("Reference") tells a story about the role of the Supreme Court of Canada within the Canadian constitutional order. The story chronicles the evolution of the Court since Confederation and culminates in the conclusion that the Court and some of its key features are now essential to--and therefore entrenched within--the Constitution of Canada. This account has elements that have long been part of the dominant narrative of Canadian constitutionalism, in particular, that the constitutional work of the Court is captured by the metaphors of 'umpire' and 'guardian,' and that the Court is the final legal voice on matters of constitutional interpretation. …

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