Hayburn's Case

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2 Dall. (2 U.S.) 409 (1792). Hayburn's Case was an early and ambiguous precedent that raised issues of judicial review and justiciability. In 1792, Congress enacted legislation that required the United States Circuit Courts to hear disability pension claims by veterans of the War for Independence and to certify their findings to the secretary of war. Five of the then-six justices of the Supreme Court (Jay, Cushing, Wilson, Blair, and Iredell), sitting as judges of the three circuit courts, tendered opinions in the form of letters to President George Washington declining to serve in that capacity. All agreed that the statute imposed nonjudicial duties on the courts and thus violated the principle of separation of powers. All objected to the implied power of the secretary of war (an officer of the executive branch) to revise or to refuse to honor the courts’ reports. Two of the letters objected to Congress's power to decline to make appropriations to support the courts’ findings. Congress in the next session revised the claims procedure to obviate the constitutional difficulties. Despite its ambiguities Hayburn's case is regarded as an early assertion of the power of federal courts to hold statutes enacted by Congress unconstitutional and to refuse to enforce them. The case also anticipated problems of justiciability because of its concern for the finality of judicial determinations.

William M. Wiecek

Subjects: Law.

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