North Carolina Law Review

University of North Carolina School of Law

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Far From a "Dead Letter": The Contract Clause and North Carolina Association of Educators v. State

October 1, 2018

96 N.C. L. Rev. 1681 (2018) 

 

The Contract Clause, which prohibits state interference with the obligations of contracts, has fallen from its prior preeminence in American jurisprudence. During early American history, in the words of the Supreme Court, the Contract Clause “was perhaps the strongest single constitutional check on state legislation.” In 1878, the Court declared that there “was no more important provision in the federal Constitution” than the Contract Clause. Yet, years later, the Contract Clause was so rarely invoked and of such “negligible importance” that some argued that it may as well have been “stricken from the Constitution.” For much of the twentieth century, the Contract Clause was more of a historical footnote than a prevailing argument.

 

A recent case in the Supreme Court of North Carolina demonstrates the renewed prominence of the Contract Clause. The case, North Carolina Association of Educators v. State, concerned a challenge to a state statute that revoked career status for teachers. The state supreme court struck down the state statute on Contract Clause grounds.

 

Rather than a dead letter, the Contract Clause remains relevant in modern times. This Article provides a concise overview of the Contract Clause and an analysis of this recently decided North Carolina case. The case and its treatment of the Contract Clause present lessons for jurists and litigants in North Carolina and across the country.

 

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