Constitutional Progressives Principles

Access to Justice

Access to Justice - Inscribed in stone over the grand entrance to the Supreme Court are the words “equal justice under law.”  In the Supreme Court’s most famous opinion, Marbury v. Madison,Chief Justice John Marshall declared that the “[t]he very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protection of the laws, whenever he receives an injury.”  The courthouse doors must be kept open to anyone with a worthy claim. 

For more:

  •  Read CAC's written testimony  for Senate Judiciary Committee hearings in 2011 and 2008 on Supreme Court rulings limiting access to courts and juries.

Liberty And Equality

Liberty and Equality- The Amendments adopted after the Civil War gave our nation what Lincoln promised at Gettysburg: a new birth of freedom, restoring the Declaration’s “self-evident” truths about equality and liberty to their rightful place at the center of our constitutional order.  These Amendments ended slavery, established birthright citizenship, expanded the franchise, and broadly protected civil and human rights.

For more:

  •  Read CAC's brief in the Ninth Circuit case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, in support of the Fourteenth Amendment right of gay men and lesbians to marriage equality. In our brief, we ask the Court of Appeals to uphold the ruling of the District Court that California’s Proposition 8, which prohibits same-sex couples from marrying, violates those rights.
  • Read CAC's issue brief, Born Under the Constitution: Why Recent Attacks on Birthright Citizenship are Unfounded. As we explain in the issue brief, a close study of the text and history of the Citizenship Clause demonstrates that birthright citizenship is guaranteed to every person born on U.S. soil and subject to its jurisdiction, regardless of the immigration status of the child's parents.

Individual Rights

Individual Rights - The Constitution strikes a careful balance between government by majority rule and protection of individual rights. Further, the Constitution creates a federal judiciary empowered and required to safeguard individual rights protected by the Constitution, even when doing so is not politically popular. 

  • For more, read CAC's narrative The Gem of the Constitution, which tells the sad story of the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was supposed to be the centerpiece of the Fourteenth Amendment and the critical constitutional language that guarantees the fundamental rights of all Americans. The narrative argues for a reconsideration of the Clause and its critical role of protecting fundamental rights and liberties.

National Authority

National Authority - The Constitution grants our federal government broad powers to address national problems by regulating commerce, taxing and spending for the general welfare, and implementing and enforcing many of the Constitution’s most important Amendments.  Congress has employed these powers at critical moments in our nation’s history, for example, by establishing a national bank in the Framing Era, stopping monopolies and protecting workers in the Progressive Era, propelling our country out of the Great Depression, and enacting civil rights laws in the 1960s. 

For more:

Checks And Balances

Checks and Balances - The Constitution separates the branches of our federal government and divides powers among them to better preserve our union and our liberty. The system of checks and balances established by the Constitution is fundamental to our free society. In particular, courts must stand firm if elected officials ignore the Constitution when they find the Constitution's commands to be politically inconvenient.


Federalism- The Constitution creates a federalist system that empowers state and local governments to serve as the laboratories of our democracy.  States in recent years have led the nation in addressing urgent needs for access to health care, economic security, equal opportunity, and environmental protection. While federal law can displace state and local action when Congress believes national uniformity is necessary, state and local laws that do not clearly conflict with federal law or constitutional mandates should be upheld by the courts if challenged. 

For more:

  • Read the book by CAC's president and founder, Doug Kendall, Redefining Federalism, which has as its objective to reestablish federalism as a neutral principle, a lens for understanding the appropriate distribution of decisionmaking authority between the levels of government. 
  • Read Doug Kendall's piece on Huffington Post, "Taking the Tenth Amendment Seriously." As Kendall explains, the Constitution's text and history demonstrates that "when the states ratified the Constitution, they renounced their status as fully-independent sovereigns and endowed the federal government with enumerated but substantial powers."


Democracy - Voting rights are critical in our representative democracy.  Since ratification of the original Constitution – the most inclusive advance toward democracy in human history to that point – successive generations of Americans have poured blood, sweat, and treasure into heroic efforts that produced six constitutional Amendments expanding the right to vote.   These Amendments have moved us ever-closer to the soaring promise of a government of “We the People.” 

  • For more, read CAC's written testimony for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing explaining  the Constitution's commitment to protecting voting rights.