The Guarantee Clause, also known as the Republican Form of Government Clause, is in Article IV, Section 4 of the United States Constitution, and requires the United States to guarantee every State a Republican form of government and provide protection from foreign invasion and domestic violence.
Article IV, Section 4:
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.
The Guarantee Clause reflects a founding understanding of republicanism, which entails governments based on majority rule. As written in the Federalist No. 57: “The elective mode of obtaining rulers is the characteristic policy of republican government.” Quoting Montesquieu, James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 43 that "should a popular insurrection happen in one of the States, the others are able to quell it. Should abuses creep into one part, they are reformed by those that remain sound.''
At the time of the founding, however, states restricted the right to vote based on race, sex, and property ownership. Madison suggested that these existing practices in the states, which he called "existing republican forms", may be continued. Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution explicitly gave the states power to decide voting qualifications, although Article I, Section 4 gives Congress authority to regulate the time, place, and manner of federal elections.
Beginning in the aftermath of the Civil War, subsequent amendments broadened the right to vote and restricted discriminatory state laws. These include the Fifteenth (no denial of right to vote based on race), Nineteenth (no denial of right to vote based on sex), Twenty-Fourth (no poll tax), and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment (reducing the voting age to eighteen).
It is understood that the Guarantee Clause requires states to produce governments by electoral processes, as opposed to inherited monarchies, dictatorships, or military rule.
In cases such as Luther v. Borden (1849) and Pacific States Telephone and Telegraph Co. v. Oregon (1912), the Supreme Court held that the enforcement of the Guarantee Clause is a nonjusticiable political question, to be decided by Congress or the President instead of the courts.
At the time of Luther, Rhode Island was the last state that did not adopt a constitution. Instead, it continued to rely on the 1633 royal charter issued by King Charles II, and restricted the franchise to men who owned more than $134 in land. A rival government attempted to adopt a constitution by convention but was quashed by the existing charter government. In Luther, the Supreme Court refused to decide whether Rhode Island's charter government was illegitimate because of its limitations on voting rights.
In Pacific States Telephone, the Supreme Court was asked to invalidate referenda (a form of direct democracy rather than representative democracy) permitted by state law, on the ground that they violate the Guarantee Clause's republican form of government requirement. The court refused to invalidate referenda.
Scholars have commented that these decisions are consistent with the statement in Federalist No. 43 that “States may choose to substitute other republican forms, they have a right to do so, and to claim the federal guaranty for the latter.”
In Colegrove v. Green (1946), a challenge of state legislative apportionments, the Supreme Court declared that the republican form of government clause cannot be used as a basis to challenge state electoral malapportionment in court. However, the court clarified in Baker v. Carr (1962) that legislature malapportionment claims can be decided in court under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as the equal protection issue was separate from the Guarantee Clause challenge.
Cases such as Luther v. Borden held the Guarantee Clause to be a political question to be resolved by Congress. Relying on that understanding, the Reconstruction era Congress disestablished ten state governments during peacetime and placed them under military rule. The law, known as the First Reconstruction Act, found those states to be unrepublican under the Guarantee Clause. The Supreme Court acquiesced to the disestablishment in Georgia v. Stanton (1868). Later, Congress also excluded elected legislators (a power recognized in Luther) when it faced "an election dispute created by state measures to suppress black voter turnout."
- "Interpretation: The Guarantee Clause | The National Constitution Center". constitutioncenter.org. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
- Ford, Matt (2019-07-17). "Make the Guarantee Clause Great Again". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved 2020-09-07.
- Thomas A. Smith, The Rule of Law and the States: A New Interpretation of the Guarantee Clause, 93 Yale L.J. 561 (1984).
- David P. Currie,The Reconstruction Congress, 75 U. Chi. L. Rev. 383, 413 (2008).
- Akhil Reed Amar, The Central Meaning of Republican Government: Popular Sovereignty, Majority Rule, and the Denominator Problem, 65 U. Colo. L. Rev. 749, 753 (1994).
- Cormac H. Broeg, Waking the Giant: A Role for the Guarantee Clause Exclusion Power in the Twenty-First Century, 105 Iowa L. Rev. 1319 (2019).