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In law, nonacquiescence is the intentional failure by one branch of the government to comply with the decision of another to some degree. 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.[citation needed][neutrality is disputed] 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.[neutrality is disputed]

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses the term nonacquiescence in its actions on decision to indicate that the IRS disagrees with a court ruling and will not follow its precedent nationwide.[7] This does not necessarily mean that the IRS will refuse to follow the ruling of the court on that particular case; rather it means that the IRS will not apply the ruling to other cases. In some cases of nonacquiesence, the IRS may follow the decision's precedent within the jurisdiction of the case in question, but not apply it in other jurisdictions.[7]


  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. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511493782.004. ISBN 978-0-511-49378-2. 
  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.
  7. ^ a b "Internal Revenue Manual,". Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Dept of Treasury. Retrieved 1 January 2016. 

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