Erin F. Delaney


Courts sometimes avoid deciding contentious issues. One prominent justification for this practice is that, by employing avoidance strategically, a court can postpone reaching decisions that might threaten its institutional viability. Avoidance creates delay, which can allow for productive dialogue with and among the political branches. That dialogue, in turn, may result in the democratic resolution of—or the evolution of popular societal consensus around—a contested question, relieving the court of its duty. Many scholars and judges assume that, by creating and deferring to this dialogue, a court can safeguard its institutional legitimacy and security.

Accepting this assumption arguendo, this Article seeks to evaluate avoidance as it relates to dialogue. It identifies two key factors in the avoidance decision that might affect dialogue with the political branches: first, the timing of avoidance (i.e., when in the life cycle of a case does a high court choose to avoid); and, second, a court’s candor about the decision (i.e., to what degree does a court openly acknowledge its choice to avoid). The Article draws on a series of avoidance strategies from apex courts around the world to tease out the relationships among timing, candor, and dialogue. As the first study to analyze avoidance from a comparative perspective, the Article generates a new framework for assessing avoidance by highlighting the impact of timing on the quality of dialogue, the possible unintended consequences of candor, and the critical trade-offs between avoidance and power.

Included in

Law Commons