16 Am. Jur. 2d Constitutional Law 117

American Jurisprudence, Second Edition
Database updated September 2008

Constitutional Law
Donald T. Kramer, J.D.

V. Determination of Constitutionality of Legislation [ 109221]
A. Power to Declare Legislation Void [ 109128]
3. Judicial Restraint in Exercising Power [ 115128]


Topic SummaryCorrelation TableReferences

117. Avoidance of unnecessary decisions

While most courts will not refuse to pass on the constitutionality of statutes in any proceeding in which such a determination is necessarily involved, [FN64] they will not make a ruling on a matter of constitutional law where there is a lack of this necessary involvement [FN65] or where some other basis for a decision is available; [FN66] thus, needless consideration of attacks on the validity of statutes and unnecessary decisions striking them down should be avoided. [FN67] This reluctance to decide constitutional issues except when absolutely necessary is sometimes referred to as the "doctrine of strict necessity," and flows from the unique place and character of judicial review of governmental actions for constitutionality under our American governmental structure. [FN68]

The invariable practice of the courts is not to consider the constitutionality of legislation unless it is imperatively required, [FN69] essential to the disposition of the case, [FN70] and unavoidable. [FN71] Thus, a court will inquire into the constitutionality of a statute only when and to the extent that a case before it requires entry upon that duty, [FN72] and only to the extent that it is essential to the protection of the rights of the parties concerned. [FN73]

CUMULATIVE SUPPLEMENT

Cases:

Questions regarding the constitutionality of statutes should be considered only where essential to the disposition of a case, i.e., where the case can not be determined on other grounds. Marconi v. Chicago Heights Police Pension Bd., 225 Ill. 2d 497, 312 Ill. Dec. 208, 870 N.E.2d 273 (2006), as modified on denial of reh'g, (May 29, 2007).

The constitutionality of a statute should be considered only when the question is properly raised and such determination is necessary and appropriate to a decision in the case. In re Commitment of Johnson, 153 S.W.3d 129 (Tex. App. Beaumont 2004).

[END OF SUPPLEMENT]



[FN64] I.N.S. v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 103 S. Ct. 2764, 77 L. Ed. 2d 317, 13 Envtl. L. Rep. 20663 (1983) (declined to extend on other grounds by, Gottesman v. U.S. I.N.S., 33 F.3d 383, 30 Fed. R. Serv. 3d (LCP) 187 (4th Cir. 1994)); Payne v. Griffin, 51 F. Supp. 588 (M.D. Ga. 1943); In re Wimberly Chapel Baptist Church of Osage County, 170 Kan. 684, 228 P.2d 540 (1951); State v. Phillips, 193 S.C. 273, 8 S.E.2d 626 (1940).

[FN65] American Foreign Service Ass'n v. Garfinkel, 490 U.S. 153, 109 S. Ct. 1693, 104 L. Ed. 2d 139 (1989), on remand to, 889 F.2d 291 (D.C. Cir. 1989) and on remand to, 732 F. Supp. 13 (D.D.C. 1990) (courts should be extremely careful not to issue unnecessary constitutional rulings); Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Ass'n, 485 U.S. 439, 108 S. Ct. 1319, 99 L. Ed. 2d 534, 18 Envtl. L. Rep. 21043 (1988); In re Snyder, 472 U.S. 634, 105 S. Ct. 2874, 86 L. Ed. 2d 504 (1985), on remand to, 770 F.2d 743 (8th Cir. 1985); Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 105 S. Ct. 2768, 86 L. Ed. 2d 356 (1985) (called into doubt on other grounds by, McLellan v. Acting Superintendent, M.C.I., Cedar Junction, 29 Mass. App. Ct. 122, 558 N.E.2d 5 (1990)); Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold Reservation v. Wold Engineering, P.C., 467 U.S. 138, 104 S. Ct. 2267, 81 L. Ed. 2d 113 (1984), on remand to, 364 N.W.2d 98 (N.D. 1985), cert. granted, 474 U.S. 900, 106 S. Ct. 270, 88 L. Ed. 2d 224 (1985) and judgment rev'd on other grounds, 476 U.S. 877, 106 S. Ct. 2305, 90 L. Ed. 2d 881 (1986), on remand on other grounds to, 392 N.W.2d 87 (N.D. 1986) and (disagreement recognized on other grounds by, Wacondo v. Concha, 117 N.M. 530, 873 P.2d 276 (Ct. App. 1994)); City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc., 455 U.S. 283, 102 S. Ct. 1070, 71 L. Ed. 2d 152 (1982), on remand to, 713 F.2d 137 (5th Cir. 1983), reh'g denied, 718 F.2d 1097 (5th Cir. 1983) and motion to recall mandate denied, 464 U.S. 927, 104 S. Ct. 329, 78 L. Ed. 2d 300 (1983) and (declined to extend on other grounds by, Kentucky Right to Life, Inc. v. Terry, 108 F.3d 637, 1997 FED App. 88P (6th Cir. 1997)); Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297, 100 S. Ct. 2671, 65 L. Ed. 2d 784 (1980), reh'g denied, 448 U.S. 917, 101 S. Ct. 39, 65 L. Ed. 2d 1180 (1980) and (not followed on state law grounds, Women of State of Minn. by Doe v. Gomez, 542 N.W.2d 17 (Minn. 1995)) and (declined on other grounds to extend by, M.L.B. v. S.L.J., 117 S. Ct. 555, 136 L. Ed. 2d 473 (U.S. 1996)); U. S. v. Clark, 445 U.S. 23, 100 S. Ct. 895, 63 L. Ed. 2d 171 (1980); Wolston v. Reader's Digest Ass'n, Inc., 443 U.S. 157, 99 S. Ct. 2701, 61 L. Ed. 2d 450, 5 Media L. Rep. (BNA) 1273 (1979) (dispositive issues of statutory and local law are to be treated before reaching constitutional issues); Califano v. Yamasaki, 442 U.S. 682, 99 S. Ct. 2545, 61 L. Ed. 2d 176 (1979), on remand to, 607 F.2d 329 (9th Cir. 1979) and (declined to extend on other grounds by, Grant v. Shalala, 989 F.2d 1332, 40 Soc. Sec. Rep. Serv. 527, Unempl. Ins. Rep. (CCH) 17171A (3d Cir. 1993)); Mobil Oil Corp. v. Virginia Gasoline Marketers and Automotive Repair Ass'n, Inc., 34 F.3d 220 (4th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1148, 115 S. Ct. 1097, 130 L. Ed. 2d 1065 (1995) (courts should refrain from addressing constitutional questions unless it is necessary to do so); ACORN v. Edwards, 81 F.3d 1387, 108 Ed. Law Rep. 1080, 42 Env't. Rep. Cas. (BNA) 1942, 26 Envtl. L. Rep. 21257 (5th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 117 S. Ct. 2532, 138 L. Ed. 2d 1031 (U.S. 1997) and (distinguished on other grounds by, Strahan v. Coxe, 127 F.3d 155, 45 Env't. Rep. Cas. (BNA) 1321 (1st Cir. 1997)); Firestone v. Galbreath, 976 F.2d 279, R.I.C.O. Bus. Disp. Guide (CCH) 8097 (6th Cir. 1992), reh'g denied, (Oct. 21, 1992) and certified question answered, 67 Ohio St. 3d 87, 616 N.E.2d 202 (1993), answer to certified question conformed to, 25 F.3d 323, 1994 FED App. 178P (6th Cir. 1994), on remand to, 895 F. Supp. 917 (S.D. Ohio 1995); Petolicchio v. Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Ass'n, Inc., 177 Ariz. 256, 866 P.2d 1342 (1994); Haase v. Starnes, 323 Ark. 263, 915 S.W.2d 675 (1996); Santa Clara County Local Transp. Authority v. Guardino (Howard Jarvis Taxpayers' Ass'n), 11 Cal. 4th 220, 12 Cal. 4th 344e, 45 Cal. Rptr. 2d 207, 902 P.2d 225 (1995), as modified on denial of reh'g, (Dec. 14, 1995); Stamford Hosp. v. Vega, 236 Conn. 646, 674 A.2d 821 (1996); In Interest of C.S., 516 N.W.2d 851 (Iowa 1994); Rhodes v. State Through Dept. of Transp. and Development, 674 So. 2d 239 (La. 1996), on remand to, 684 So. 2d 1134 (La. Ct. App. 1st Cir. 1996), writ not considered, 688 So. 2d 487 (La. 1997); Curran v. Price, 334 Md. 149, 638 A.2d 93 (1994); Neff v. Commissioner of Dept. of Indus. Accidents, 421 Mass. 70, 653 N.E.2d 556 (1995); State v. Still, 273 Mont. 261, 902 P.2d 546 (1995); State ex rel. Wieland v. Beermann, 246 Neb. 808, 523 N.W.2d 518 (1994); Owens v. State, 908 S.W.2d 923 (Tenn. 1995); City of Seattle v. Williams, 128 Wash. 2d 341, 908 P.2d 359 (1995).
The United States Supreme Court follows a policy of avoiding unnecessary adjudication of constitutional issues. U.S. v. National Treasury Employees Union, 513 U.S. 454, 115 S. Ct. 1003, 130 L. Ed. 2d 964, 10 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 452 (1995).

Federal courts should not pass on the constitutionality of an act of Congress if construction of the act is fairly possible by which the constitutional question can be avoided. Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School Dist., 509 U.S. 1, 113 S. Ct. 2462, 125 L. Ed. 2d 1, 2 A.D.D. 176, 83 Ed. Law Rep. 930 (1993) (declined to extend on other grounds by, Foley v. Special School Dist. of St. Louis County, 927 F. Supp. 1214, 17 A.D.D. 570, 110 Ed. Law Rep. 630 (E.D. Mo. 1996)) and (distinguished on other grounds by, Jackson v. Benson, 213 Wis. 2d 1, 570 N.W.2d 407 (Ct. App. 1997)).

[FN66] Federal Election Com'n v. Survival Educ. Fund, Inc., 65 F.3d 285 (2d Cir. 1995).
A federal court should avoid addressing federal constitutional issues when it is possible to dispose of a case on pendent state grounds. Triple G Landfills, Inc. v. Board of Com'rs of Fountain County, Ind., 977 F.2d 287, 23 Envtl. L. Rep. 20130 (7th Cir. 1992).

[FN67] Communist Party, U.S.A. v. Catherwood, 367 U.S. 389, 81 S. Ct. 1465, 6 L. Ed. 2d 919 (1961); McElroy v. U. S. ex rel. Guagliardo, 361 U.S. 281, 80 S. Ct. 305, 4 L. Ed. 2d 282 (1960), for dissenting opinion, see, 361 U.S. 234, 80 S. Ct. 311, 4 L. Ed. 2d 268 (1960); Petolicchio v. Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Ass'n, Inc., 177 Ariz. 256, 866 P.2d 1342 (1994); Foreman v. State, 321 Ark. 167, 901 S.W.2d 802 (1995), appeal after remand, 328 Ark. 583, 945 S.W.2d 926 (1997); International Union of Elec., Salaried, Mach., and Furniture Workers, AFL-CIO v. Taylor, 669 A.2d 699 (D.C. 1995); State v. Mozo, 655 So. 2d 1115 (Fla. 1995), reh'g denied, (June 12, 1995); People v. McDaniel, 164 Ill. 2d 173, 207 Ill. Dec. 304, 647 N.E.2d 266 (1995); Curran v. Price, 334 Md. 149, 638 A.2d 93 (1994); Manor v. Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Inst., Cedar Junction, 416 Mass. 820, 626 N.E.2d 614 (1994), related reference, 2 Mass. L. Rptr. 506, 1994 WL 879790 (Mass. Super. Ct. 1994); State v. Watkins, 676 So. 2d 247 (Miss. 1996); World Peace Movement of America v. Newspaper Agency Corp., Inc., 879 P.2d 253, 22 Media L. Rep. (BNA) 2193 (Utah 1994).
A federal court should refuse to decide a constitutional issue unless a constitutional decision is strictly necessary. Cone Corp. v. Florida Dept. of Transp., 921 F.2d 1190, 36 Cont. Cas. Fed. (CCH) 76001, 55 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) 40518 (11th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 500 U.S. 942, 111 S. Ct. 2238, 114 L. Ed. 2d 479, 56 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) 40803 (1991).
If a serious doubt of a statute's constitutionality is raised, a court will first ascertain whether a construction of the statute is fairly possible by which the question may be avoided. Hometown Properties, Inc. v. Fleming, 680 A.2d 56 (R.I. 1996).

[FN68] Citizens Nat. Bank of Evansville v. Foster, 668 N.E.2d 1236 (Ind. 1996).

[FN69] Bush v. State of Tex., 372 U.S. 586, 83 S. Ct. 922, 9 L. Ed. 2d 958 (1963); Hsu By and Through Hsu v. Roslyn Union Free School Dist. No. 3, 85 F.3d 839, 109 Ed. Law Rep. 1145 (2d Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 117 S. Ct. 608, 136 L. Ed. 2d 534 (U.S. 1996) and (distinguished on other grounds by, Bronx Household of Faith v. Community School Dist. No. 10, 127 F.3d 207, 121 Ed. Law Rep. 892 (2d Cir. 1997)); People v. Victor, 62 Cal. 2d 280, 42 Cal. Rptr. 199, 398 P.2d 391 (1965); State ex rel. Hofstetter v. Kronk, 20 Ohio St. 2d 117, 49 Ohio Op. 2d 440, 254 N.E.2d 15 (1969).
The United States Supreme Court will not pass upon questions of the constitutionality of a statute unless such adjudication is unavoidable. Rosenberg v. Fleuti, 374 U.S. 449, 83 S. Ct. 1804, 10 L. Ed. 2d 1000 (1963) (declined on other grounds to extend by, Kasbati v. District Director of I.N.S., 805 F. Supp. 619 (N.D. Ill. 1992)) and (declined to extend on other grounds by, Mejia-Ruiz v. I.N.S., 51 F.3d 358 (2d Cir. 1995)).
Constitutional questions are not decided in advance of strict necessity. Jackson v. Oklahoma Memorial Hosp., 909 P.2d 765, 106 Ed. Law Rep. 364 (Okla. 1995), reh'g denied, (Jan. 30, 1996).

[FN70] Farm Bureau Town and Country Ins. Co. of Missouri v. Angoff, 909 S.W.2d 348 (Mo. 1995), reh'g denied, (Nov. 21, 1995).

[FN71] Rosenberg v. Fleuti, 374 U.S. 449, 83 S. Ct. 1804, 10 L. Ed. 2d 1000 (1963) (declined on other grounds to extend by, Kasbati v. District Director of I.N.S., 805 F. Supp. 619 (N.D. Ill. 1992)) and (declined to extend on other grounds by, Mejia-Ruiz v. I.N.S., 51 F.3d 358 (2d Cir. 1995)); U. S. v. Hayman, 342 U.S. 205, 72 S. Ct. 263, 96 L. Ed. 232 (1952).
Only in cases where it is virtually impossible to decide an issue on the merits without considering constitutionality will the Kansas Supreme Court entertain the question of constitutionality. McVay v. Rich, 255 Kan. 371, 874 P.2d 641 (1994).

[FN72] Alabama State Federation of Labor, Local Union No. 103, United Broth. of Carpenters and Joiners of America v. McAdory, 325 U.S. 450, 65 S. Ct. 1384, 89 L. Ed. 1725 (1945); Kaluczky v. City of White Plains, 57 F.3d 202 (2d Cir. 1995); In re Sale's Estate, 227 So. 2d 199 (Fla. 1969).

[FN73] O'Kane v. State, 283 N.Y. 439, 28 N.E.2d 905 (1940), reargument denied, 284 N.Y. 591, 29 N.E.2d 665 (1940); Greenhills Home Owners Corp. v. Village of Greenhills, 5 Ohio St. 2d 207, 34 Ohio Op. 2d 420, 215 N.E.2d 403 (1966), cert. denied, 385 U.S. 836, 87 S. Ct. 82, 17 L. Ed. 2d 70 (1966).

2008 Thomson Reuters/West. Volumes 33-34B 2008 Thomson Reuters/RIA.
No Claim to Orig. U.S. Govt. Works. All rights reserved.

AMJUR CONSTLAW 117

END OF DOCUMENT

(C) 2008 Thomson Reuters/West. No Claim to Orig. US Gov. Works.



"The only way for a reporter to look on a politician is down." H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

"The mere title of Lawyer is sufficient to deprive a man of public confidence. The most innocent and irreproachable life cannot guard a lawyer against the hatred of his fellow citizens." --John Q. Adams

"The public welfare demands that constitutional cases must be decided according to the terms of the Constitution itself, and not according to judges' views of fairness, reasonableness, or justice." -- Justice Hugo L. Black ( U.S. Supreme Court Justice, 1886 - 1971).

"If we know the truth, we must tell it; if we don't, we must learn it!" It is critical to our spirit.

"It is not the function of our government to keep the Citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the Citizen to keep the government from falling into error." American Communications Ass'n v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 442.

-------------------------------------------------------------------
Constitution Society 2900 W Anderson Ln C-200-322, Austin, TX 78757
512/299-5001   www.constitution.org     jon.roland@constitution.org
-------------------------------------------------------------------

NOTICE: Constitution Society is not affiliated with Freedom School.