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Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority
[297 U.S. 288]
Hughes Court,  Decided 8-1,  2/17/1936
Read the actual decision


Chief Justice Charles Evans HughesThis decision has less to do with any far-reaching constitutional issue, than it does with the Court's reiteration of the circumstances under which it will consider the constitutionality of a statute.

The case in question was a claim by stockholders of a small utility company that the TVA -- a large, government-owned construction project that sold electricity generated as a byproduct of building dams and waterways -- was unconstitutional. The Court ruled that the government had a right to involve itself with such construction when it affects national security, enhances interstate commerce, and produces other general public benefits, and that Article IV Section 3 of the Constitution gave it the right to sell property -- i.e. electricity in this case -- that it had gained legally.

In writing his concurring opinion, Justice Louis Brandeis expressed concern that such a simple disagreement should have reached the high court. He included in his opinion a list of guidelines, which came to be known as the Ashwander Rules, under which the Court might agree to review the constitutionality of legislation. Briefly, they were as follows:

  1. The Court will not determine the constitutionality of legislation in non-adversarial proceedings; this pretty much ended any hopes for "advisory" rulings from the Court.
  2. The Court will not anticipate a question of constitutional law.
  3. The Court will not formulate a rule of constitutional law which is broader than needed.
  4. The Court will not rule on constitutionality where there is another ground for deciding the case.
  5. The Court will not determine a statute's constitutionality unless a party has been injured by it.
  6. The Court will not invalidate a statute at the request of parties who have taken advantage of its benefits.
  7. The Court will always consider whether any reasonable interpretation of a statute allows it to avoid the constitutional issues.

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     ... or on subject Judicial Review    Find other Documents
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Other decisions pertaining to Judicial Review:

Baker v. Carr    [369 U.S. 186 (1962)]  Warren Court
Fletcher v. Peck    [10 U.S. 87 (1810)]  Marshall Court
Marbury v. Madison    [5 U.S. 137 (1803)]  Marshall Court
McCulloch v. Maryland    [17 U.S. 316 (1819)]  Marshall Court
Scott v. Sandford    [60 U.S. 393 (1857)]  Taney Court
United States v. Carolene Products    [304 U.S. 145 (1905)]  Hughes Court

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