By L&T Managing Editor Larry Phillips
I think some may be confused about the relationship between the U.S. Supreme Court and the Constitution. I am no expert – and have never, ever claimed to be – but if one has an IQ somewhat above a good earthquake and studies the relationship and reads enough facts – not something on Media Matters or other crap in the “blogosphere” – one can learn some interesting “facts.”
SCOTUS (Supreme Court Of The United States) does not have the final word on the Constitution. In fact, SCOTUS is sworn to protect the Constitution – and all its words and their meanings. It serves as a persistant reminder to Congress that the laws Congress passes will be measured against the provisions of the Constitution and nullified if found in conflict. It has the power to keep any laws that violate the Constitution from being executed.
Now does SCOTUS get involved in politics?
Naturally it does, just like numerous courts in the land does. Jurists like to think they are above politics and, I believe, most are. Most do take the rule of law seriously and their state’s and country’s Constitution. However, there are blemishes on the high court’s record in history because of political winds at that time in history.
The very makeup of the court is decided by politics. Jurists are appointed by conservatives, liberal progressives or even moderates, and those appointed more often than not, support the ideology of their appointee – the president.
One important fact is SCOTUS is not perfect. It has had some of its rulings nullified by Congress, too – by way of amendments or rewritten laws.
Congress has passed thousands of statutes from our founding, but SCOTUS has only ruled laws or portion of laws unconstitutional 150 times through the year 2000. (Source: Legislation declared unconstitutional. (2003). In D. R. Tarr, & A. O'Connor (Eds.), Congress A to Z. Washington: CQ Press. Retrieved August 22, 2005, from CQ Electronic Library, CQ Encyclopedia of American Government.)
History shows SCOTUS only nixed two statutes by the end of the Civil War.
Afterward, Congress started more and more federal regulation and SCOTUS increased its number of “invalidations” of laws.
The conflicts peaked from 1918 to 1936. The Court threw out twenty-nine laws during that period, including several statutes of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program.
Here was a major example the country learned about SCOTUS and politics. As we all know, FDR was elected to four terms and stayed in office 12 years until his death in 1945. And what did he do to the makeup of SCOTUS. He swung the tide of conservatism upside down, and he filled the court with progressives – justices who supported broad federal powers in economic affairs while taking a more expansive view of civil liberties.
The people in America finally woke up and said, “Presidents will only serve two terms,” and that became law.
Let’s look back at the infamous “Dred Scott” decision, aka the Missouri Compromise.
The compromise of 1820 that admitted Missouri as a slave state) and Maine (a free state) held that U.S. territory along the 36°30’ north latitude line that slavery was “forever prohibited” above the line, except for Missouri.
The court ruled that Congress lacked the power to exclude slavery from any territory, thus the slave Scott was returned to his slave master in the South.
Ironic that it was a court which had a majority of Democrats, and the Republicans of the North were furious the court ruled – in their view – “in favor” of slavery.
We all know what happened next – the Civil War.
Many see that case as a political case that proved so wrong in every way, and it nearly caused the death of the nation.
Let’s look at the opposite, where liberals prevailed over conservatives in the court. “The Court in 1895 struck down the first general peacetime income tax enacted by Congress. The decision (Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co.) was bitterly attacked by Democrats in Congress and was reversed in 1913 by the Sixteenth Amendment.”
In historical context, how will the American people today see the SCOTUS ruling that Obamacare is a “tax” and is, therefore, Constitutional?
Will it end up like the Dred Scott decision?
Will it lead to civil war?
Only time will tell, but I’ll go to my grave believing it’s unconstitutional – in my opinion – for the federal government to make every person in this country have to buy a product, whether they want it or not, or be fined by the federal government.
And I know I’m not alone.
There are numerous examples of “major decisions” the court has made, some for the good, others that had to be rectified through Constitutional Amendments or rewritten laws. But the bottom line, SCOTUS is supposed to be protecting the American people by protecting the “words” of our Constitution.
The debate will always be, “how does a political body – the judges are appointed for life by politicians – interpret those words.
It’s my opinion that progressive liberals want to rewrite the meaning of the words and conservatives believe words are words, and they have meaning.