Note – Preserving Dignity in Due Process

Sara B. Tosdal

Volume 62, Issue 4, 1003-1036

Procedural due process is a guarantee of fairness. Fundamentally, this guarantee requires notice and an opportunity to be heard. Procedural protections from arbitrary state action vary according to the context of each case, and protections in administrative actions are distinct from those provided in formal judicial proceedings. The administrative state developed to address a pressing need: how to govern and regulate when the three branches of government lack the capacity to efficiently and effectively administer an everevolving society. But as society has developed and expanded, individuals have more frequently interacted with the administrative state, in turn necessitating the expansion of procedural due process into an area of law that prioritizes efficiency over individual rights.

Both the United States Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court have addressed this tension, but with different emphases. Where the U.S. Supreme Court applies a narrow constitutional threshold for rights implicating procedural protections, the California Supreme Court applies a more expansive threshold, with a particular focus on the dignity of the individual confronted with an adverse state action. Where the U.S. Supreme Court uses a three-factor balancing test for procedural adequacy, the California Supreme Court has articulated a four-factor balancing test that recognizes a person’s dignitary interest in procedural protections against the state.

However, California’s due process analysis has been applied haphazardly, at best, leading to confusion amongst appellate courts. This Note argues that uneven application of the doctrine stems from unclear guidance from the California Supreme Court in the first instance and, ultimately, demeans the dignitary interest. After outlining the federal and state frameworks and explaining the misapplication of the California due process tests by the state’s courts, this Note urges a clearer definition of the due process trigger and more vigorous consideration of the dignitary interest in order to achieve a truer appreciation for and greater protection of an individual’s position before a state actor.

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