Buffalo Law Review

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Unlike the U.S. Constitution, many state constitutions are truly modern documents that address important social, economic, and political issues from a progressive perspective. This is due to the combination of several key features, including: socially oriented historical circumstances; democratic creation processes; significant substantive content guided by ideas of social justice; and adequate judicial enforcement that takes into account these crucial normative elements. As a result, these progressive state constitutions can become powerful allies in the search for a transformative constitutionalism in the United States that facilitates the goals of social justice and collective prosperity.

The constitutional processes in California (1880), New York (1938), Puerto Rico (1952), and Illinois (1970) are prime examples of this type of progressive constitutionalism. Their particular creation histories and the constitutional content they produced represent a sharp break from the experiences at the federal level. Specifically, they show that there is an available alternative route in order to achieve progressive results in the constitutional realm. Moreover, they can serve as blueprints for the eventual substitution of the U.S. Constitution with a document truly written by ‘We the People’ that, in turn, addresses the enormous social, economic, political, and environmental challenges facing the United States today.