On Avoiding Avoidance, Agenda Control, and Related Matters
By: Henry Paul Monaghan
Legal scholars have long posited that, heuristically at least, two basic adjudicatory models—the dispute resolution model and the law declaration model—compete for the Court’s affection along a wide spectrum of issues. The former focuses upon judicial resolution of actual disputes between litigants. Historically, that model has been underpinned by a premise, reflected in a wide range of doctrines, that significant barriers rightly exist to judicial review of the constitutionality of governmental conduct. By contrast, the law declaration model focuses on the Court itself, not the litigants. Emphasizing the judicial authority to say what the law is, it views any restraints on judicial authority solely in functional terms, terms not as litigant centered.
The dispute resolution model is usually treated as formally dominant, followed by an exploration of the inroads made by the law declaration model. Examination of recent, seemingly unrelated, decisions shows that this approach now gets matters pretty much backwards, at least so far as the Court is concerned. Embracing in significant measure the premises of the law declaration model, the Court has sought to expand its hierarchical hegemony to ensure that: (a) It can have the final say when any other court, state or federal, rules on the constitutionality of government conduct; and (b) it will possess wide-ranging agenda-setting freedom to determine what issues are to be (or not to be) decided, irrespective of the wishes of the litigants. The latter development in particular raises troublesome questions about the Court’s appropriate role in our polity.
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