Eldred & the New Rationality
Historically, the rational basis test has been a constitutional rubber stamp. In Eldred v. Ashcroft and Golan v. Holder, the Supreme Court applied the rational basis test and respectively held that Congress could extend the copyright term of existing works and restore copyright protection of public domain works, despite evidence that Congress intended to benefit copyright owners at the expense of the public. But in Lawrence v. Texas and United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court seems to have applied the rational basis test and held that state and federal laws were unconstitutional because they were motivated by animosity, and in Obergefell v. Hodges, it held that states must license marriages between two people of the same sex, because there is no legitimate basis to refuse. This essay argues that Lawrence, Windsor, and Obergefell may reflect the emergence of a “new rationality” that authorizes courts to consider legislative intent when evaluating the constitutionality of legislation. If so, perhaps the Court should reconsider Eldred and Golan.