Early Ripeness Doctrine, 1947 to 1967: United Public Workers

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ArtIII.S2.C1. Early Ripeness Doctrine, 1947 to 1967: United Public Workers

Article III, Section 2, Clause 1:

The Judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States,—between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

The Supreme Court's decision in United Public Workers of America (C.I.O.) v. Mitchell, is the starting point for discussing the ripeness doctrine.1 The plaintiffs in United Public Workers attempted to challenge the constitutionality of a statute that prohibited certain executive branch employees from engaging in specified political activities.2 The Court declined to resolve the claims of several challengers who had not yet taken part in such political acts, and who merely sought a judicial declaration that the statute was unconstitutional.3 Because the Court could “only speculate” about the political activities those challengers wanted to conduct, the Court ruled that they failed to present a justiciable case or controversy under Article III.4 The Court reasoned that the judiciary may only review a statute's constitutionality when litigants face actual—rather than legal—violations of their constitutional rights.5

330 U.S. 75 (1947). back
Id. at 81–82. back
Id. at 82–84. One of the challengers had in fact engaged in political activity and consequently faced “removal from his position.” Id. at 91–92. The Supreme Court concluded that although that single employee's challenge to the statute was “appropriate for [immediate] judicial determination,” the other employees' challenges were not. Id. at 91. back
Id. at 89–90. The Court also based its reasoning on Article III's prohibition against advisory opinions. See id. For further discussion of the rule against advisory opinions, see ArtIII.S2.C1.2.3 Rules of Justiciability and the Case or Controversy Requirement: Advisory Opinions. back
330 U.S. at 89–90 ( “The power of courts, and ultimately of this Court to pass upon the constitutionality of acts of Congress arises only when the interests of litigants require the use of this judicial authority for their protection against actual interference. A hypothetical threat is not enough.” ). back

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