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⚖️  Unit 2: Interactions Among Branches of Government

🗳  Unit 5: Political Participation

2.10 The Court in Action

#foundationsofamericandemocracy

#interactionsamongbranchesofgovernment

#supremecourtcases

#executiveroles

⏱️  2 min read

written by

samantha howey


When the Supreme Court's decisions are controversial or unpopular, the other branches may question the Court's legitimacy and take actions to curb its influence. Every year, the Supreme Court hands down decisions on cases that affect the lives of millions of people.  It strikes down laws that elected members of Congress enacted 🙅‍♀️, often with the clear mandate of their constituents. Or, conversely, the Court might uphold a law—perhaps one enacted by the legislature of a small state—that the majority of Americans dislike.

Tenure

Because the Supreme Court justices have life tenure, they have the freedom to judge the constitutionality of laws without needing to please the public 🥺 to retain their seats.

The Framers designed the structure of the Court this way to insulate it from the whims of the majority, but sometimes Court decisions are so unpopular or controversial that Congress and the President take, or threaten to take, court-curbing measures.

Court-Curbing

Court-curbing measures are strategies for reducing the power of the Supreme Court or the impact of its rulings. These include: future appointments, legislation changing the Court’s jurisdiction, and refusing to implement decisions.

Presidents can change the ideological composition ⚖️ of the Supreme Court by appointing new justices who share their interpretations of the Constitution. Sometimes presidents have even suggested altering the number of justices sitting on the Court so they could shift the balance of votes in favor of their policies.

Article III of the Constitution gives Congress the power to establish and abolish inferior courts, and the ability to determine the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction (its role as a court of appeals for lower courts). Congress may pass acts that prevent the Supreme Court from hearing appeals in certain types of cases. 

Enforcement of Rulings

The Supreme Court relies on the president to enforce its will; if presidents disagree with a decision they may do as little as possible to enforce the decision, or in rare cases ignore a decision altogether.

For example, the Supreme Court struck down Abraham Lincoln’s decision to suspend habeas corpus during the Civil War, but he continued the policy with Congress’s approval.

Partisanship

Although the Court is independent, there is some evidence to suggest that the Justices aren’t entirely immune to outside opinion .

Legal scholars have noted that to maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of the public, justices are careful not to give the appearance of favoring one political party over another by ruling too often for or against liberal or conservative policies.

🎥 Watch: AP GOPO - US Supreme Court

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