The Supreme Court. The Highest Court in the Land and Their Influence Over American Democracy. Why is the Supreme Court so important to American democracy?. Only the Supreme Court has the final say about what the Constitution means and what laws will be allowed.
The Highest Court in the Land and Their Influence Over American Democracy
Why is the Supreme Court so important to American democracy? Only the Supreme Court has the final say about what the Constitution means and what laws will be allowed. A Supreme court decision establishes the broadest and the most lasting precedents in the legal system.
Judicial Review Judicial review is the power to overturn ay law that the Supreme Court decides is in conflict with the Constitution – or unconstitutional! “The Judiciary keeps the Legislature subordinate to the Constitution.” - The Federalist, No. 78
Marbury V. Madison, 1803 In the case of Marbury V. Madison, neither the plaintiff nor the defendant was satisfied with the verdict – but Chief Justice John Marshall did more to empower the court than any previous justice. He ruled that the Judiciary Act of 1789, which allowed Marbury to bring his case to the Supreme Court, was unconstitutional! In doing so, the precedent was set for judicial review.
Chief Justice John Marshall established the principle of judicial review in the case of Marbury V. Madison. Chief Justice John Marshall
Judicial Review in Action Since 1803, over one thousand state and local laws have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. There have also been over one hundred federal laws deemed unconstitutional. Most recently, the Defense of Marriage Act was struck by the Supreme Court and some portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were struck from the law.
Thurgood Marshall – The Nation’s First African-American Justice Sandra Day O’Connor – The Nation’s First Female Supreme Court Justice 1981 1967 Supreme Court Justices are selected by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate. The first African American approved for the position was Thurgood Marshall in 1967; Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice in 1981.
Selection of Cases The Supreme Court has a certain number of cases each year which it must hear because the court has original jurisdiction. Then, there are over 8,000 cases per year which are appealed to the Supreme Court. Since the Court cannot hear all of theses cases, they select only the cases which have significant points of law to be considered to hear arguments. Fewer than 100 cases are hear each year. Review the chart on page 280 to see the small percentage of cases which are actually ruled upon – and have opinions written – by the Supreme Court.
Arguments Before the Supreme Court The arguments are presented to the court in writing as briefs – from both sides – before the actual trial begins. Each attorney then has thirty minutes to argue their case before the Court, but beware! Members of the Supreme Court will bombard each lawyer with questions and comments during these arguments to clarify point or poke holes in their argument.
Making Decisions… The Supreme Court Justices meet together to make decisions in each case. The Chief Justice, currently John Roberts, leads these discussions, but every justice has the opportunity to make comments. Then, opinions are written by the court. Every justice can write an opinion – and they can change their vote in the process of writing, as well.
Types of Opinions… In the context of the Supreme Court of the United States, an opinion is a statement explaining the reasons for the Court’s decision. Opinions can be brief and dismissive at times, but the vast majority are well researched, comprehensively cited, and long! In an opinion, the Court explains why they have made their decision. For example, when the new health care law was ruled Constitutional (Obamacare) it was because the Court declared that the Congress had the power to tax and use the money for the general welfare of the people, if they so chose.
Concurring Opinions Not everyone on the court is required to report their findings. Often, however, if a member of the Court agrees with the opinion of the majority but has slightly different logic, they will write a concurring opinion in order to explain their perspective. With Nine (9) Justices on the Supreme Court, it is rare that they all agree on controversial points of law.
Dissenting Opinions A justice who DOES NOT agree with the majority – and remember, many of the cases are decided on a 5-4 vote – can write a dissenting opinion in order to explain why they disagree with the remainder of the Supreme Court.
Precedent Judges look to previous cases in order to make determinations regarding the decisions they must make. They assume that the law is the will of the people, and review the law over time. Precedent is important because respecting past decisions by judges and Justices of the Supreme Court allows the nation to develop a consistent body of law. What were the intentions of lawmakers at the time they made laws?
The President Selects New Supreme Court Justices
The United States V. Nixon When it came to the attention of Congress that there were recordings of the goings on in the Oval Office during President Nixon’s administration, the Congress demanded the tapes in order to find evidence as to whether or not Nixon had broken the law. Nixon claimed executive privilege. The Supreme Court, however, did not agree. He was forced to hand over the tapes to Congress, and eventually to resign as President of the United States.
Judicial Activism Judicial Activism is the tendency of judges on the Supreme Court t take an active role in policymaking by overturning laws relatively often. Many worried that the health care law passed by President Obama many be overturned by the Supreme Court; however, most of the law remained intact after it was taken to the Supreme Court last year.
Judicial Restraint Judicial restraint is more or less the opposite of judicial review. It is an effort by judges to avoid overturning laws and to leave policymaking to the branches of government which were designed for the purpose: the Congress and the President.
Roe V. Wade (1973) This Supreme Court decision found that no state could make a law which forbid women to have abortions. Recently many states have passed extremely restrictive abortion laws which may be considered by the Supreme Court on appeal. North Carolina was the most recent state to do so.
Presidents Shape the Court
Congress can refuse to confirm a President’s nominee for the Supreme Court. When Clarence Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court, he was accused of sexual harassment and other embarrassing by professor Anita Hill. He was confirmed by the Senate – but barely. Since joining the court, he almost always decides cases in agreement with Judge Scalia, and he almost never asks questions during hearings or writes lengthy opinions.
Recourse for Congress When the Supreme Court rules a law passed by the Congress unconstitutional, Congress has one recourse – the amendment process.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 The Supreme Court recently gutted portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, arguing that they were unnecessary today. Many Americans would disagree, including the artist of this political cartoon, who suggests that old “Jim Crow” has been let out of his cage again.