Know Your Constitution (6): What Is Procedural Due Process?
This is another in a series of posts written about the Constitution in everyday language, with a minimum of legal jargon. Previous posts introduced the Constitution, rebutted some commonly held myths about the Constitution, addressed the Equal Protection Clause and considered free speech and hate speech.
The Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause applies to the federal government (“No person … shall …be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).
The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause applies to state and local governments (“nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).
Distinguishing Between Procedural Due Process and Substantive Due Process
This post deals with procedural due process which focuses on fair and timely procedures. It is far less complicated and controversial than substantive due process which focuses on government regulation of conduct such as abortion, sexual conduct and certain family matters.
Life, Liberty and Property Interests
Procedural due process may be implicated whenever the government threatens to take a life, liberty or property interest from an individual.
The meaning of a “life” interest is self evident. The meaning of property and liberty interests is more tricky. As a general matter, both are brought into existence by state and local law. However, whether they constitute property and liberty interests for procedural due process purposes is a matter of federal constitutional law.
For example, a mere expectation of continued employment by a terminable-at-will public employee is not a property interest because there is no “legitimate claim of entitlement.” In contrast, if that public employee has a contract and is terminated in the middle of that contract period without any kind of a hearing, then that may constitute a property interest triggering procedural due process protections.
Although it is too complicated to get into here, liberty interests may include an individual’s interest in not being imprisoned (from the tort of false imprisonment), in not having his or her physical integrity interfered with (from the tort of battery) and in not having his or her privacy invaded (from the tort of privacy)
What Kind of Hearing and When?
Once it is shown that government threatens to deprive a person of a life, liberty or property interest, then certain procedural protections may kick in.
Ordinarily (except when there is a true emergency), a pre-deprivation hearing of some kind is required. Moreover, that pre-deprivation hearing must have minimal procedural protections: the government must provide notice of the accusations against the individual, it must present evidence against him or her and the individual must have an opportunity to respond. Not surprisingly, procedural due process requires an impartial decision-maker at some point in the proceedings.
The best example of a pre-deprivation hearing with maximum procedural protections is a criminal trial. In contrast, pre-deprivation hearings directed at property interests do not necessarily have to be conducted by judges. Very often administrative proceedings are sufficient for procedural due process purposes so long as they provide the minimum protections described above: notice, the government’s evidence, the opportunity to respond and an impartial decision-maker.
Next: Substantive Due Process
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