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The term justiciability refers to a body of judicially created doctrines that define and limit the circumstances under which an Article III federal court may exercise its constitutional authority, including its authority to engage in judicial review. These doctrines are derived in part from an interpretation of Article III’s case or controversy requirement, and in part from prudential policy considerations involving perceptions of the proper role of the federal judiciary within the constitutional structure of government.

Stated very broadly, a matter is deemed justiciable—i.e., one over which an Article III court may exercise authority—if it possesses a sufficient number of those characteristics historically associated with the judicial function of dispute resolution. Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 94 (1968). Thus justiciability defines the limits of Article III judicial power by focusing on our expectations of the types of matters judges commonly decide. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). Those expectations are applied and developed through the lens of four specific doctrines—the doctrines of standing, ripeness, mootness, and political questions—each of which is designed, at least in part, to ensure that Article III courts do not become embroiled in matters of a nonjusticiable nature—i.e., matters that would take a federal court beyond the sphere of activity commonly associated with judging.

The limitations imposed by the justiciability doctrines apply not only to the federal district courts, but to the federal appellate tribunals as well. Thus, a case that was sufficiently “live” to have been properly decided by a federal district court may, due to intervening events, become moot while the case is on appeal, thereby stripping the federal courts of their ability to proceed in the matter. Similarly, even if a plaintiff had standing to bring a case and seek relief from a district court, this does not automatically mean that a dissatisfied defendant has standing to pursue the matter on appeal. Instead, the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court may need to first determine whether, in light of the relief sought on appeal, the appellate proceeding itself qualifies as an Article III case or controversy. See Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, 130 S. Ct. 2743, 2752-2754 (2010) (a defendant seeking Supreme Court review of an adverse lower federal court ruling must show that the injury defendant complains of and the relief sought on appeal qualify the matter as an Article III “case” that the Court is allowed to hear).

Example 3-A

Jean received severe burns as the result of the explosion of the gas tank in a car in which she was a passenger. The explosion was triggered by a 10 mph rear-end collision. Jean files suit against the manufacturer of the car, claiming that the explosion was caused by a design defect in the gas tank. She seeks compensatory damages.


Regardless of whether Jean will prevail on the merits, her claim is justiciable. It presents precisely the type of controversy judges have historically decided. An injured party seeks relief against the entity she claims is legally responsible for her injuries.

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