By refusing to take sides in a dispute between two rival governments in Rhode Island, the Supreme Court held that the meaning of “a Republican form of government” is a political question and thus a responsibility of Congress rather than the courts.
Following the Dorr Rebellion of 1842, two competing groups claimed to be the lawful government of Rhode Island. One claim was based on a democratic referendum; the other was based on a colonial charter of 1663. The charter government, supported by President John Tyler, declared martial law and reestablished its authority. A Dorrite reformer, Luther Borden, argued in federal district court that the charter government’s nondemocratic arrangements and procedures violated the “republican form” guarantee in the U.S. Constitution. The court dismissed Borden’s claims and upheld the government in power.
Speaking for an 8-1 majority on the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney
Separation of powers