A controversy is nonjusticiable -- i. e., involves a political question -- where there is a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department; or a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it. But the courts must, in the first instance, interpret the text in question and determine whether and to what extent the issue is textually committed. The concept of a textual commitment to a coordinate political department is not completely separate from the concept of a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it; the lack of judicially manageable standards may strengthen the conclusion that there is a textually demonstrable commitment to a coordinate branch.
Petitioner, a former federal judge, challenged his impeachment conviction. Petitioner argued the impeachment proceedings violated the authority of the Senate under the Impeachment Clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 3, cl. 6, to "try" all impeachments because the whole Senate did not take part in evidentiary hearings. The Court held the controversy was a nonjusticiable political question as there was a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to the legislature and a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it. The Impeachment Clause granted sole authority over impeachments to the Senate, and did not require or provide a means of judicial review. As impeachment was designed to be the only check on the judiciary by the legislature, it was counterintuitive to have judicial review of impeachment proceedings. There were no discoverable standards for judicial review of impeachment proceedings, and fashioning relief was difficult.
Did the issue on impeachment of a federal judge constitute a nonjusticiable controversy?
It was held that the judge's claim was nonjusticiable, because (1) the use of the word "try" in the impeachment trial clause lacked sufficient precision to afford any judicially manageable standard of review of the Senate's actions, and such word did not provide an identifiable textual limit on the authority which was committed to the Senate; (2) the commonsense meaning of the word "sole" in the impeachment trial clause was that the Senate alone had the authority to determine whether an individual should be acquitted or convicted; (3) an interpretation of the word "sole" under which the Senate--but not a Senate committee--could try impeachments would bring into judicial purview other similar claims based on the conclusion that the word "Senate" has imposed by implication limitations on procedures which the Senate might adopt, and such limitations would be inconsistent with the construction of the impeachment trial clause as a whole; (4) the history and contemporary understanding of the Constitution's impeachment provisions supported such reading of the impeachment trial clause; (5) judicial involvement in impeachment proceedings, even if only for purposes of judicial review, was counterintuitive; (6) to allow judicial review of Senate impeachment procedures would expose the political life of the country to months or years of chaos; (7) it was uncertain what relief a court could give in such a case other than simply setting aside the judgment of conviction; and (8) there was no separate constitutional provision which would be defeated by allowing the Senate final authority to determine the meaning of the word "try."