In law, nonacquiescence is the intentional failure by one branch of the government to comply with the decision of another. It tends to arise only in governments that feature a strong separation of powers, such as in the United States, and is much rarer in governments where such powers are partly or wholly fused. In the context of lawsuits, executive nonacquiescence in judicial decisions can lead to bizarre Kafkaesque situations where parties discover to their chagrin that their legal victory over the government is an empty one. Nonacquiescence can also possibly lead to a constitutional crisis, given certain critical situations and decisions.

In the United States, certain federal agencies are notorious for practicing nonacquiescence (essentially, ignoring court decisions that go against them and refusing to accept their validity as binding precedent).[1][2][3] The Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service are particularly well known for such conduct.[4] Although executive nonacquiescence has been heavily criticized by the federal courts,[5] as well as the American Bar Association,[6] the U.S. Congress has not yet been able to pass a bill formally prohibiting or punishing such behavior.


  1. ^ Gregory C. Sisk, Litigation with the Federal Government (Philadelphia: American Law Institute, 2006), 418-425.
  2. ^ Robert J. Hume, How Courts Impact Federal Administrative Behavior (New York: Routledge, 2009), 92-106.
  3. ^ Canon, Bradley C. (2004). "Studying bureaucratic implementation of judicial policies in the United States: conceptual and methodological approaches". In Hertogh, Marc; Halliday, Simon. Judicial Review and Bureaucratic Impact. Cambridge University Press. pp. 76–100.  
  4. ^ The SSA publishes Acquiescence Rulings and the IRS publishes Actions on Decisions, in which they state whether they will obey a particular court decision or not.
  5. ^ See, e.g., Hutchison v. Chater, 99 F.3d 286, 287-88 (8th Cir. 1996); Johnson v. U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, 969 F.2d 1082 (D.C. Cir. 1992); Allegheny General Hospital v. NLRB, 608 F.2d 965 (3d Cir. 1979); and Lopez v. Heckler, 713 F.2d 1432 (9th Cir.), rev'd on other grounds sub nomine Heckler v. Lopez, 463 U.S. 1328 (1983).
  6. ^ Rhonda McMillion, "A Little Compliance Can't Hurt," ABA Journal, August 1997, 96.

See also

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