Advance Opinions on Constitutional Questions

February 24, 1936

Report Outline
Proposed New Method of Testing Federal Laws
Advisory Opinions by State Supreme Courts
The Supreme Court and the Advisory Opinion
Means of Self-Help Available to Congress
Special Focus

Proposed New Method of Testing Federal Laws

Two Years and nine months elapsed between President Roosevelt's signature of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act and the rendering by the Supreme Court of its first decision in a case contesting the validity of the act. The Court held, February 17, 1936, that the federal government had constitutional authority to construct the Wilson Dam at Muscle Shoals, to sell surplus electric power developed at the dam, and to purchase and maintain transmission lines to carry this surplus power to a “fair market.”

The Court did not rule generally on the constitutionality of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act in this case. Chief Justice Hughes specifically stated that it expressed no opinion as to “the constitutional right of the government to acquire or operate local or urban distribution systems,” as to “the status of any other dam or power development in the Tennessee Valley,” or as to “the validity of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act or of the claims made in the pronouncements and program of the Authority apart from the questions we have discussed.” These issues were not directly involved in the case at bar and, said Hughes, “the judicial power does not extend to the determination of abstract questions.”

The decision was narrowed substantially to the issues presented by the government's special counsel. Victory on the chief of these issues fell far short of validating the T. V. A. project in all its essential features, but the decision was heartily welcomed by the Roosevelt administration and it was stated that plans would now go forward for setting up similar power and regional development authorities in other parts of the country. The administration evidently considers it unlikely that the Court will destroy the project it has now permitted to go forward by finding in a later case that constitutional limitations were exceeded in provisions of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act which remain to be passed upon.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Sep. 07, 2012  Re-examining the Constitution
Jan. 29, 1988  Treaty Ratification
Mar. 27, 1987  Bicentennial of the Constitution
Jan. 31, 1986  Constitution Debate Renewed
Mar. 16, 1979  Calls for Constitutional Conventions
Jul. 04, 1976  Appraising the American Revolution
Sep. 12, 1973  Separation of Powers
Jul. 12, 1972  Treaty Ratification
Apr. 19, 1967  Foreign Policy Making and the Congress
Mar. 05, 1947  Contempt of Congress
May 10, 1945  The Tariff Power
Jul. 01, 1943  Executive Agreements
Jun. 01, 1943  Advice and Consent of the Senate
May 24, 1943  Modernization of Congress
Jan. 18, 1943  The Treaty Power
Aug. 24, 1942  Congress and the Conduct of War
May 09, 1940  Congressional Powers of Inquiry
Nov. 09, 1939  Participation by Congress in Control of Foreign Policy
Apr. 21, 1937  Revision of the Constitution
Feb. 24, 1936  Advance Opinions on Constitutional Questions
Oct. 04, 1935  Federal Powers Under the Commerce Clause
Jun. 19, 1935  The President, the Constitution, and the Supreme Court
Sep. 10, 1928  The Senate and the Multilateral Treaty
Dec. 16, 1926  The Senate's Power of Investigation
Oct. 03, 1924  Pending Proposals to Amend the Constitution
Supreme Court History and Decisions
U.S. Constitution