Who should hold sway over the United States, the populace that elects their government or the nine individuals sporting black robes?
Back in 1803, the Supreme Court of the United States gave itself the power of judicial review. This ruling gives the Supreme Court the right to review the constitutionality of a law passed by Congress and declare it void if the judges feel the law violates the constitution.
Judicial review is both celebrated and denounced by both Republicans and Democrats depending on which side of the fence the ruling finally lands. The Supreme Court has to interpret a document written over two hundred years ago and is subject to much interpretation.
The nine justices of the court have a tendency to interpret the constitution differently based on party or ideological lines. These days it’s rare not to see a 5-4 decision given that there are 4 conservatives, 4 liberals and a moderate (5 were nominated by Republicans, 4 by Democrats) on the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court holds power over the federal government and therefore holds power over the people that elect it. I find it astonishing the amount of power the Supreme Court actually has as an un-elected body in a democracy. It’s also ironic that the job of the court is to protect the constitution even though judicial review is not in the constitution in the first place.
A couple weeks ago the Supreme Court started its judicial review of the “affordable care act” or “Obamacare.” While the law in its entirety is under review, the individual mandate that requires everyone to purchase health insurance from a private insurance company is what’s really under scrutiny. I don’t agree with the individual mandate, but what is the alternative at this point, tens of millions without healthcare?
In this case, the justices have to decide between freedom of choice and the freedom to have equal access to healthcare. Both sides are equally important. Regardless of the way this case is ruled, my question is; should the fate of fifty million people be left in the hands of just nine?
The American Supreme Court has a shaky history when it comes to protecting the rights of citizens as it is, yet Americans still seem content on letting the court make the big decisions that affect everyone for them. Just as an example; the Supreme Court upheld the legality of slavery in 1857, upheld segregation in 1896 and upheld Japanese internment in 1944.
It can be said that the Court has also overstepped its bounds on multiple occasions in the past. It ruled over a century ago that corporations have the same rights as citizens and recently ruled that corporate money is equal to free speech. It has gotten involved in bankruptcy proceedings, re-districting and in 2000 it even decided a general election (Bush v. Gore).
Last week the justices ruled that it is constitutional to strip-search anyone arrested of any crime, regardless if the person arrested is suspected of hiding anything. Get ready to put on your birthday suit if you’re caught smoking a joint or have an unpaid parking ticket.
The only way to overturn a decision by the Supreme Court is with a constitutional amendment which requires two thirds of the House and two thirds of the senate to pass. In other words, fat chance; it comes as no surprise then that nothing has improved since 1803.
Canada went over a hundred years without judicial review, Great Britain still does, which begs the question; why is it necessary in the first place? I don’t believe it is. The people should have the first and last say when it comes to the laws of the land. Politicians can be voted out if they implement a law that the masses disagree with, that is what democracy is supposed to be about; the people, not the nine dictators dressed in black.