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Advisory Adjudication

57 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2012  

Girardeau A. Spann

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: 2012


The Supreme Court decision in Camreta v. Greene is revealing. The Court first issues an opinion authorizing appeals by prevailing parties in qualified immunity cases, even though doing so entails the issuance of an advisory opinion that is not necessary to resolution of the dispute between the parties. And the Court then declines to reach the merits of the underlying constitutional claim in the case, because doing so would entail the issuance of an advisory opinion that was not necessary to the resolution of the dispute between the parties. The Court's decision, therefore, has the paradoxical effect of both honoring and violating the Article III jurisdictional limitation on advisory opinions at the same time. The Camreta paradox illustrates a problem that makes our current conception of judicial review incoherent. We insist that the Supreme Court avoid separation of powers problems by confining itself to the retrospective adjudicatory activities envisioned by the Marbury v. Madison dispute-resolution model of judicial review. But what we really want the Court to do is participate in the prospective formulation of governmental policy, as if it were part of a tricameral legislative process. These dual conceptions of judicial review reflect a tension inherent in liberalism itself. We want both to advance our own self-interests in an unflattering pluralist political process, but simultaneously we wish to think of ourselves as other-regarding adherents to loftier civic republican virtue. We ask the Supreme Court to mediate this tension for us by making our liberal political victories look as if they are rooted in deeper communitarian principles. But this mediation can be successful only to the extent that the Court can mask for us the underlying incoherence of the judicial review function that we ask the Court to perform. In Camreta, this incoherence is so close to the surface that, hopefully, we will be forced to confront it. Without the camouflage that we ask judicial review to provide for our baser instincts, perhaps we will come to treat each other less harshly, and with more empathy.

Keywords: Supreme Court, advisory adjudication, Camreta, Article III, judicial review, paradox, Fourth Amendment, dispute resolution, jurisdiction

JEL Classification: K00, K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Spann, Girardeau A., Advisory Adjudication (2012). Tulane Law Review, Vol. 86, pp. 1289-1344, 2012; Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 12-142. Available at SSRN:

Girardeau A. Spann (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
202-662-9103 (Phone)

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