This is with regard to the constitutionality of "trigger laws" such as those that went into effect, automatically, after the overturn of Roe vs. Wade.

I am neither a lawyer nor a politician, but it is my understanding that in the United States, state laws are produced by elected state congresses in the ideal of having such laws represent the people. Such laws must be consistent with other legislation and enforceable. The ill-defined "trigger law" is purely theoretical, in that it is known to be unenforceable, but could become enforceable if key changes occur such as a reversal of a ruling by the Supreme Court.

To me, this sounds a little absurd, as it effectively means that an untestable hopper-bill can be submitted, voted on, and even passed with the full recogition that it is outside of the ability of the state to enforce. It is passed for an unknown point in the future during which many congressmen may no longer serve; and cannot, with certainty, represent the will of the people. It is treated purely as a theoretical element. It is, given such an event as the overturn, in effect, immediately and without state review, due to the actions of someone neither elected democratically nor even likely a resident of said state.

This just feels wrong. Unfortunately I'm uncertain whether this qualifies as a matter for the federal constitution or state constitutions. SCOTUS was never meant to be a legislative body. But is it constitutional?

  • 7
    1) On the other hand, imagine the inverse situation, where instead of SCOTUS making a terrible decision, the law was in place waiting for SCOTUS to overturn a terrible decision. 2) A trigger law could always be overturned by the current legislature - "cannot, with certainty, represent the will of the people" this suggests that any law not passed by the current legislature would be subject to the same criticism. This is obviously not a tenable way to run a government. Jul 7, 2022 at 18:16
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    Would a state law (or budget item) that said money will be allocated to a highway fund if and when Federal funding is provided sound as wrong? The Federal funding "triggers" the state's action similar to the SCOTUS decision.
    – doneal24
    Jul 7, 2022 at 18:34
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    "SCOTUS was never meant to be a legislative body": don't forget that the US legal system was based on English common law, a system where the majority of law was established through judicial precedent rather than by the legislature. Not being a legislative body does not imply that a court cannot be a source of law.
    – phoog
    Jul 7, 2022 at 20:37
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    Surely it feels preferable that politicians dictate the high level goals and outline of a regulation, and delegate nonpartisan subject-matter-experts to specify (and maintain) the details?
    – benjimin
    Jul 7, 2022 at 21:23
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    Whenever the Supreme Court makes a decision you like, then it's good that it was in the hands of the best professionals who are not partisans of a political party (especially when the ruling party is not the one you voted for). But when the time comes they make a decision you don't like, then it is suddenly wrong and absurd for unelected agents to have a say in laws.
    – vsz
    Jul 8, 2022 at 4:04

4 Answers 4


It happens all the time. Most laws designate an executive official (usually a cabinet member, but a department head under the cabinet official can also occur) who will set relevant language to enforce the goals of the law. This can lead to unelected officials (but rarely un-appointed, so there is a democratic recourse - vote out the elected official(s) that appointed them) to determine the policy of enforcement of a law.

The cure to this is to elect politicians who will repeal the law that enables another branch of government to determine how the law was intended to be enforced.


state laws are produced by elected state congresses in the ideal of having such laws represent the people

Yes, but isn't that precisely what the trigger laws went through? Being created upon by the appointed, state-level, representatives of the state's electorate? The people of Kentucky voted for representatives and governors who wanted to make abortion illegal, opinion polls show 57% support for "Illegal in most/all cases" limits on abortions.

  1. Kentucky

Enacted: 2019 Mechanism: Goes into effect immediately without further action being required Penalty: Anyone who provides or attempts to provide an abortion service will be charged with a 4 Class D felony Exceptions: Pregnant person’s life is in danger or provider performs medical treatment that accidentally terminates a pregnancy
Other abortion bans: Six-week ban (not currently in effect)

The only "problem", depending on your pro-choice/life viewpoint, was that SCOTUS had a ruling forbidding states to enforce such a law, at the state level, for constitutional reasons.

That seems like a popular mandate, arrived at by proper procedure, the only missing ingredient is that this law, at this time, could not be applied so what is your concern? Once the trigger condition was met, this law came into effect. Not another law.

Furthermore, said trigger law is currently blocked, pending appeal, so there is more scope for review.

Kentucky’s trigger law banning nearly all abortions took immediate effect when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24. The state’s two abortion providers, Planned Parenthood and EMW Women’s Surgical Center, sued the state the following Monday, arguing that a right to privacy and bodily autonomy was protected by the Kentucky Constitution. Their request for a temporary restraining order blocking the trigger law from taking effect was granted by Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Mitch Perry last week. That ordered allowed abortions to continue, at least temporarily. The Supreme Court’s refusal to grant Cameron’s request allows that order to stay in place.

p.s. I am pro-choice myself so I believe that the state enforcing a pregnancy being carried out to term, at least in the first 16 weeks or so, is a gross violation of a woman's rights. But that opinion doesn't change my lack of concern regarding the trigger procedure itself.

  • My chief concern is that the law remains dormant in the records until an unknown time, for an unknowable state populous, when the "trigger" condition is put into effect; it feels like saying "hey, if you want, you can enact this law in the state of [Kentucky]" to SCOTUS. If it was patently illegal at the time, rather than awaiting, say, funding, then I feel it should never have been an item until it was legal. Jul 7, 2022 at 19:31
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    The temporal aspect is fair enough and it is a valid concern. But it does not automatically follow from the question's title. And if indeed the dormant law really became out of step with the electorate, it could be repealed by that electorate. Jul 7, 2022 at 19:42
  • As a follow up, it surprises me that this happened further, as a state (as red as Kentucky) has only 57% approval on an extremely hot issue. Majority, sure, but those are not good election numbers at all. Jul 7, 2022 at 20:07
  • 2
    57-to-36 seems a pretty solid majority. But yes, winning this may yet be a poisoned chalice for the Reps at the federal level in the years and decades to come. At the state level, expect full-ban red states to become redder as people leave/arrive. Jul 7, 2022 at 20:13

Trigger laws don't make courts legislative in any way. No authority to craft legislation is delegated to the courts. There are lots of cases where one court decision makes a law unenforceable and another one later makes it enforceable again. This happens all the time when courts are reviewing a case, usually with a lower court striking it down, but a higher court reversing that decision. Or, in some cases, even a court enjoining it during trial and then the same court ultimately finding that the law is not illegal and allowing it to go into effect.

The only difference with 'trigger laws' from any other law is just that they include provisions acknowledging that attempts to enforce the law will not be made immediately following its passage until such time as such attempts are not be restrained by a court order. Any law ceases to be effective when struck down by a court and becomes effective again when such decision is reversed unless the law was explicitly repealed or replaced between the cases in question. As such, it's not just 'trigger laws' potentially going into effect now, but also pre-Roe abortion laws that were not repealed or replaced after Roe. All of these laws were crafted and passed via normal legislative means, not created in any way by courts.

So, no, a legislature cannot delegate actual lawmaking authority to another agent, but that's not what trigger laws do. Legislatures can, however, delegate rulemaking authority to executive and, in some cases, even judicial authorities in order to craft specific rules to implement a law passed by Congress or a state legislature. This actually happens all the time and is how we have the Code of Federal Regulations that is currently around 200 books in length (no, that is not an exaggeration; it's actually around 200 volumes.) This happens much more frequently with the executive branch, given that implementing and executing the laws is the primary purpose of the executive branch, but it also sometimes happens with the judicial branch. For example, the United States Supreme Court actually has its own police force and the Rules Enabling Act authorizes it to make rules for the federal court system, including, among other things, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. However, while this process is common, it is entirely unrelated to trigger laws, which are just normal laws created by normal legislation which just so happened to be unenforceable at the time they were passed as the result of a court decision.

  • A far more sensible answer than the giant blurring of the lines from others... OTOH some have argued that laws which take effect at an unspecified point in the future should be barred by analogy with Dillon v. Gloss (which however is about constitutional amendments). Jul 8, 2022 at 23:06

(I'm dyslexic, so forgive me if this is hard to understand.)

The answer is "yes and no". But the problem is, they don't use the yes and no system of law. They use their own loophole law, which is "yes and no", but nobody knows if it's yes or no. Is it legal or is it illegal?

It's one of their tricks. You can do anything if it is not illegal, but that doesn't mean it's legal to do. It means its not illegal and it's not legal, so it's a loophole that doesn't have a yes or no. So its not a crime, even if you know it's wrong, because there has never been a legal ruling on it.

The government uses it all the time. A government minister gives a contract to a organisation not because they're the best, or the cheapest, or the best all-round deal - the company that gets it is the one who gives the minister the most money to get it. It's not legal to do, but it's not illegal to do, and that's how they have always done it. I remember an MP saying "it's not right but it's not illegal and that's how we have always awarded contracts".

The courts use de facto and bylaws. De facto means it's not a legal law but nobody knows and they think it is, so they use it as if it is a legal law when it's not. And because we trust the courts to follow the law, we don't think they would do this, but it's now normal and no one has noticed.

And "bylaw" is a law that's not been made a legal law. but is being used as a law without authority legally, until it is passed or rejected. It's a loophole where a law needs to be made and used straight away at the time it was needed, and all agree it's needed, and it cannot wait until it has been passed as it is needed now, and it can get passed later or rejected. It's an emergency law for special reasons and events.

It is being used by the Canadian government as a law and not for emergency reasons, but because it's a loophole, as the bylaws Canada are using would never become a legal law, so they would never be able to forcefully remove people from their land as it would always be illegal. So they use bylaws, which is not a legal law, to get round the law to do what would be illegal to do if it wasn't for the bylaw which is not legal and going through the system to make it legal or not.

And while they're waiting to be told it's not legal, they remove you from your land, bulldoze it flat, and put you in temporary housing while the courts decide whether it was illegal to do it. And when, after a long time, they decide that it was clearly illegal and it was a crime that the government committed, and "heads will roll" and "it's a disgrace". it's too late, because the land that they would've never been able to mine and develop is now a car park, so the owners cannot get it back but get a compensation payment for it instead.

I've seen the land tax payment they give the people whose land they stole - which is worth billions and would never be sold as it belonged to the tribe - and it's a couple of thousand dollars each, and a house to rent from the agency.

  • Welcome to Politics.SE! Don't worry too much about your dyslexia - Stack Exchange is a collaborative platform, and users are encouraged to correct each others' spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes. Let me see if I can polish this answer up a little so it's easier for us to understand. (As an aside, have you considered installing a dyslexia-friendly font on your PC? It may make it easier for you to type.)
    – F1Krazy
    Jul 9, 2022 at 15:35

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