Goldwater v. Carter,
444 U.S. 996 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Goldwater v. Carter, 444 U.S. 996 (1979)

Goldwater v. Carter

No. 79-856

Decided December 13, 1979

444 U.S. 996




The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated and the case is remanded to the District Court with directions to dismiss the complaint.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL, concurring.

Primary Holding

How Congress and the President interact in conducting foreign affairs is a political question that is not appropriate for judicial review.


Senator Barry Goldwater and other members of Congress challenged President Jimmy Carter's use of his executive power in acting alone to terminate a treaty with Taiwan. Carter had taken this action without congressional approval. The lower court ruled in Goldwater's favor, after which Carter sought a writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court.



  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Potter Stewart
  • John Paul Stevens

Political questions often are not ripe for judicial review. This case falls within either the political question doctrine or the ripeness doctrine, either of which would prevent the Court from hearing it on the merits.


  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)

Both Congress and the President must act in a way that asserts their constitutional authority before a court can review the dispute. The proper resolution was reached here, but the case should be decided under the ripeness rather than the political question doctrine.

Concurrence/Dissent In Part

  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)

Congress has not officially challenged the President's decision to terminate the treaty, so the Court may not intervene at this stage. However, the case does not fit within the political question doctrine because traditional tools of judicial interpretation are available to evaluate the President's decision if necessary. The text of the Constitution does not provide the President with an unequivocal termination power that would insulate his decision from judicial review, and the Supreme Court may intervene when the other two branches of government are clashing with each other. Ripeness is the appropriate reason to dismiss.

Concurrence/Dissent In Part

  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)
  • Byron Raymond White


  • Thurgood Marshall (Author)

Case Commentary

Issues arising from foreign affairs are the prime example of where the political question doctrine applies, preventing a court from reviewing the case. This long-held principle may change as the Court gradually narrows the doctrine, but the President has been granted almost unlimited power over international relations.

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