Constitutional Nondefense in the States

By:  Katherine Shaw

 

Although scholars have long debated the scope of the President’s power to decline to defend statutes challenged in litigation, no one has yet undertaken a systematic examination of nondefense by state executives, who, like their federal counterparts, often find themselves torn between competing obligations to defend statutes, on the one hand, and to maintain fidelity to state and federal constitutions, on the other. This Article takes up the question of how the executive nondefense power is conceived, wielded, and constrained—within what institutional frameworks and with what implications—in the states. Drawing on a number of case studies, the Article sketches an initial taxonomy of approaches to executive nondefense in the states, argues that significant benefits can attach to the practice of nondefense, and provides a set of recommendations for ensuring that when nondefense occurs, its benefits can be realized. Although critics of executive nondefense in the federal system worry that its use threatens to inject partisanship, instability, and uncertainty into the law, the practice in the states, in which nondefense occurs relatively routinely in the context of a variety of institutional design choices, provides a powerful counterpoint to those objections.

 

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