Political Question Doctrine: Justiciability and the Separation of Powers [December 23, 2014] [open pdf - 374KB]
"Article III of the Constitution restricts the jurisdiction of federal courts to deciding actual 'Cases' and 'Controversies.' The Supreme Court has articulated several 'justiciability' doctrines emanating from Article III that restrict when federal courts will adjudicate disputes. One justiciability concept is the political question doctrine, according to which federal courts will not adjudicate certain controversies because their resolution is more proper within the political branches. Because of the potential implications for the separation of powers when courts decline to adjudicate certain issues, application of the political question doctrine has sparked controversy. Because there is no precise test for when a court should find a political question, however, understanding exactly when the doctrine applies can be difficult. […] However, a recent Supreme Court case, 'Zivotofsky v. Clinton,' appears to have narrowed the scope of the political question doctrine. In a suit seeking the vindication of a statutory right in the foreign affairs context, the Court reversed a lower court's finding that the case posed a political question. The Court explained that the proper analysis in such a situation begins not by asking whether adjudicating the case would require review of the foreign policy decisions of the political branches, but instead examining whether the plaintiff correctly interpreted the statute, followed by determining whether the statute was constitutional. The Court's opinion appears to restrict the types of claims that can pose political questions, and seems to encourage courts to decide more statutory claims on the merits. In turn, the decision could lead to increased judicial resolution of controversies concerning the separation of powers, rather than resolutions between the political branches themselves."
CRS Report for Congress, R43834
Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/index.html