SMU Law Review Forum


“Purpose” is a key component of modern Establishment Clause jurisprudence. While the Supreme Court has expanded the role purpose plays in various areas of constitutional analysis over the last half-century, the Court seemingly continues to muddy the waters as to purpose’s proper place in Establishment Clause cases. This Comment focuses on the function and operation of purpose in Establishment Clause cases in order to probe the complications and obstacles inherent to this area of constitutional law. By constructing and applying an analytical framework that examines modern Establishment Clause cases through the lenses of “conceptions of purpose,” “evidence of purpose,” and “indicia of impermissible purpose,” this Comment provides critical takeaways about the development and current state of the Establishment Clause—as well as potential future outcomes in these cases. Ultimately, the dispositive consideration in Establishment Clause cases is the utilization and weight given by individual Justices in any given case to the factors discussed in this Comment’s analytical framework. This conclusion demonstrates the judge-dependent nature of these cases and the value certain Justices place on the institutional legitimacy of the Supreme Court and the judicial branch as a whole.

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