Defenders of the political question doctrine sometimes observe that the lack of a judicial remedy for a constitutional violation does not deprive injured parties of all remedy, because injured parties can pursue a political or an electoral remedy - they can seek relief at the ballot box or in the political process. This essay criticizes that argument. Political and electoral remedies for constitutional violations are ineffective for important practical and theoretical reasons that grow out of the different structures of the judicial, political, and electoral processes. The judicial process focuses each case on a particular issue; candidates in elections always represent a package of positions on many issues, so that voters do not actually have an opportunity to vote for or against a particular, allegedly unconstitutional action. The judicial process produces reasons for its decisions; the electoral process produces only an inscrutable result, so that even if voters managed to defeat a candidate because of unconstitutional action, no one could really know it. The judicial process operates within a system of precedent; political battles may have to be fought afresh each election cycle. The judicial process is mandatory; legislatures may choose to ignore political agitation. Finally, the judicial process operates according to law; the political and electoral processes are majoritarian and are not likely to be good vehicles for enforcing constraints on majoritarianism. These differences between the judicial, political, and electoral processes demonstrate the error of arguing that the political and electoral processes provide an adequate substitute for a judicial remedy. They also show that the political insulation of judges, although very important, is only one factor supporting the institution of judicial review. Judicial review also rests on the distinctive features of the judicial process: that it is focused, that it is mandatory, that it articulates norms explicitly, and that it operates within a system of precedent. Defenders of the political question doctrine must explain not only why we should entrust constitutional questions to officials not insulated from politics, but why we should entrust them to a process lacking these other, vital features of judicial review.
GW Paper Series
GWU Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 93
Siegel, Jonathan R., "Political Questions and Political Remedies" (2004). GW Law Faculty Publications & Other Works. 916.