1 minute read

Kendall v. United States

The Separation Of Powers

The controversy stemmed from an argument about the separation of powers. The U.S. Constitution clearly establishes three branches of government: a legislative branch, led by Congress, to make the laws, an executive branch, led by the president, to execute the laws, and a judicial branch, led by the Supreme Court, to interpret the laws. That way, in theory, no one branch would become too powerful.

Kendall's lawyers argued that if a federal court could force a member of the executive branch to take a particular action as part of his governmental duties, the court was usurping the power of executive authority. If so, the separation of powers called for in the Constitution would be violated.

Opposing lawyers, hired by Stockton and Stokes, likewise appealed to the separation of powers. But in their opinion, Kendall was the one who was violating the separation. Richard S. Coxe, for example, accused Kendall of wanting to break down the judicial branch of government, take over the legislative branch of government, destroy the safeguards set up by the Constitution, and make the executive branch all-powerful.

The arguments also covered the issue of whether the action of paying the $40,000 was merely "ministerial" (routine) or if it was an action that required judgment and discretion. Kendall's lawyers agreed that if the act were ministerial, then the courts could order Kendall to perform it. However, they argued, the act was actually far more than ministerial; it required judgment and discretion. In that sense, Kendall was representing the president. And no court should be able to force the president to take a particular governmental action.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Kendall v. United States - Significance, A Carriage And A Pair Of Horses, The President Fails To Intervene, The Separation Of Powers