How can laws requiring specific federal government action be enforced, e.g., the requirement to pass a budget every year?
2 Answers from Attorneys
Many of them can't really be enforced at all, others are enforced by the fact that the people who carry them out will follow them even if the people the law directs to do or not do something fail to comply. So, for example, the executive branch will simply not cut checks if spending is not authorized by Congress as required by law. That is why the debt ceiling keeps coming up as an issue. The government does actually have bank accounts and if they are empty, the bank will not honor the checks, and no one will buy Treasury Bills to fund those accounts if the debt isn't authorized. So in the end the Treasury Dept. just doesn't even try to issue T-Bills without authorization.
If Congress fails to pass a budget, political pressure is the only means to make it do so. The President cannot control Congress due to separation of powers. Neither can the courts.
On occasion, some members of Congress have asked the courts to resolve questions about what Congress must do. The courts usually decline to get involved.
Even in situations where the courts would act, such lawsuits would normally have to be brought by government officials. Individual citizens generally would not have standing to bring such a lawsuit.
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