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Pacific States Telephone & Telegraph Company v. Oregon - Significance

political court government question

Citing a clear precedent, the Court reaffirmed that it had no constitutional authority to decide a political issue, such as the validity of a state government. The Court's dismissal of Pacific States upheld a state's right to introduce initiative and referendum reforms.

In Democracy in America, the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville observed, "Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question." De Tocqueville's assertion, however, was too sweeping; the Supreme Court has found political questions it will not address. To preserve the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches, the Court developed the "political question doctrine," which it has invoked in cases that are purely political.

The doctrine first clearly arose in Luther v. Borden (1848), a case concerning Article IV, section 4 of the Constitution. In the "Guarantee Clause," the federal government guarantees that each state will have a republican form of government. In Luther, two political factions in Rhode Island claimed to be the legitimate government of the state. The case asked the Court to decide which one should be in power. The Court, however, denied it had jurisdiction. Deciding if a state had a republican government was a political question, one that had to be resolved by Congress. That reasoning was at the heart of the Court's decision in Pacific States as well.

Pacific States Telephone Telegraph Company v. Oregon - Progressive Politics On Trial [next]

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