Definitions

political-question

Political question

In United States law, a ruling that a matter in controversy is a political question is a statement by a federal court declining to rule in a case because:

  1. The U.S. Constitution has committed decision-making on this subject to a coordinate branch of the federal government; or
  2. There are inadequate standards for the court to apply; or
  3. The court feels it is prudent not to interfere.

Recently, courts have held that Congress's impeachment procedures and the President's authority over foreign affairs, particularly the President's powers to abrogate treaties and commit troops, are political questions.

The doctrine has its roots in the federal judiciary's desire to avoid inserting itself into conflicts between branches of the federal government. It is justified by the notion that there exist some questions best resolved through the political process, voters approving or correcting the challenged action by voting for or against those involved in the decision. Justice Felix Frankfurter was an active and eloquent exponent of maintaining and expanding the political question doctrine. Critics of the doctrine argue that it has little or no basis in the text of the Constitution and is used by courts to shirk responsibility for deciding difficult questions.

Important cases discussing the political question doctrine:

A dispute that requires knowledge of a non-legal character or the use of techniques not suitable for a court or explicitly assigned by the Constitution to Congress or the president; judges refuse to answer constitutional questions that they declare are political.

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