Monday, July 2, 2012

Can 9 People Really Decide?

After last week's Constitutional hubbub..I thought this would be a good time for a little review regarding "Judicial Review".

It may be surprising to you to know that even though the Supreme Court of the United States hears cases wherein the constitutionality of a law or regulation is challenged, it actually was not given the power to do so by the Constitution. This process known as Judicial Review, was a responsibility that the Court gave to itself.  The Constitution, did not delegate the power of Judicial Review to the Supreme Court, or to any branch of the government for that matter. Continue reading for an excellent explanation:
Since the constitution does not give this power to the court, you might wonder how it came to be that the court assumed this responsibility. The answer is that the court just started doing it and no one has put a stop to it. This assumption of power took place first in 1794 when the Supreme Court declared an act of congress to be unconstitutional, but went largely unnoticed until the landmark case of Marbury v Madison in 1803. Marbury is significant less for the issue that it settled (between Marbury and Madison) than for the fact that Chief Justice John Marshall used Marbury to provide a rationale for judicial review. Since then, the idea that the Supreme Court should be the arbiter of constitutionality issues has become so ingrained that most people incorrectly believe that the Constitution granted this power.
Powers of the Supreme Court

Article III of the Constitution provides for the establishment of a Judicial branch of the federal government and Section 2 of that article enumerates the powers of the Supreme Court. Here is Section 2, in part:

Section 2. The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;
  • to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;
  • to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;
  • to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;
  • to Controversies between two or more States;
  • between a State and Citizens of another State;
  • between Citizens of different States;
  • between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.
In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

Feel free to examine the entire text of Article III to assure yourself that no power of Judicial Review is granted by the Constitution.

"Well," you might say, "someone has to review laws for constitutionality. Why not the Supreme Court?" Some possible answers:

First and foremost, it is not a power granted to the Supreme Court by the Constitution. When the Supreme Court exercises Judicial Review, it is acting unconstitutionally.
It is a huge conflict of interest. The Federal Government is judging the constitutionality of its own laws. It is a classic case of "the fox guarding the hen house."
The Constitution's "checks and balances" were designed to prevent any one branch of government (legislative, executive or judicial) from becoming too powerful and running roughshod over the other branches. There is no such system of checks and balances to protect the states and the people when multiple branches of government, acting in concert, erode and destroy the rights and powers of the states and the people.
Even if the Supreme Court could be counted on to keep the Executive and Legislative branches from violating the Constitution, who is watching the Supreme Court and will prevent the Judicial branch from acting unconstitutionally? Unless you believe that the Supreme Court is infallible (and, demonstrably, it is not), then allowing the Supreme Court to be the sole arbiter of Constitutionality issues is obviously flawed.
Justices are appointed for life. If the court upholds unconstitutional laws, there is no recourse. We the People cannot simply vote them out to correct the situation. Thomas Jefferson wrote, in 1823:

"At the establishment of our constitutions, the judiciary bodies were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of the government. Experience, however, soon showed in what way they were to become the most dangerous; that the insufficiency of the means provided for their removal gave them a freehold and irresponsibility in office; that their decisions, seeming to concern individual suitors only, pass silent and unheeded by the public at large; that these decisions, nevertheless, become law by precedent, sapping, by little and little, the foundations of the constitution, and working its change by construction, before any one has perceived that that invisible and helpless worm has been busily employed in consuming its substance. In truth, man is not made to be trusted for life, if secured against all liability to account."

It is the Constitution, not the Supreme Court, which is the Supreme Law of the Land. Even the Supreme Court should be accountable for overstepping Constitutional limits on federal power.
There are only nine Justices and, under the current system, it takes only a simple majority — five votes — to determine a case. Given the supermajority requirement mandated by the Constitution to pass Constitutional amendments, a simple majority requirement by the Supreme Court, to uphold a suspect law, defies the spirit of the Constitution. If 44.44% of the Supreme Court justices (four of nine) think a law is not constitutional, we should err on the side of caution and declare it unconstitutional.
The people and the states have little control over the makeup of the Supreme Court.
Officials in all three branches of government take an oath of office to uphold the Constitution. The Supreme Court Justices, Senators, Congressmen, and Vice President, and other federal officers, all take an oath of office to "support and defend" the Constitution. (The president's oath of office in Article II, Section 1, requires that he "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.") Why is the Supreme Court's version of "constitutional" considered more authoritative? Is the Judicial branch more to be trusted than the Executive or Legislative branches? Prudence dictates that we be wary of all three branches (and especially wary of the one unaccountable branch).
Given that it was the people and the states which established the Constitution, it is the states who should settle issues of constitutionality. The Constitution is a set of rules made by the states as to how the government should act. The "judicial review" paradigm allows the government to make its own rules with no say by the original rule-makers — the states.
The Constitution was created by the states and any question as to the meaning of the Constitution is rightly settled by the states. When you make rules for your children, do you permit your children to interpret your rules in any manner they like? Of course not. Yet, the states are permitting the federal government — the "child" of the states — to do exactly that.
Since the power of Judicial Review is not expressly granted to the Supreme Court by the Constitution, this power, per the tenth amendment, is "reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Read that last listed reason above again, for it contains the key to this site's being. The Constitution is very clear; any power to review laws to see if they are constitutional belongs to the states and to the people. Therefore, the Supreme Court is itself acting unconstitutionally when it exercises the power of 'Judicial Review.' It would require a Constitutional Amendment specifically granting this power to the court in order for 'Judicial Review' to be constitutional!

This kind of goes counter to everything you may have learned in school regarding SCOTUS... doesn't it!
All of the powers of each brach of government are specifically laid out (enumerated) in the US Constitution.
It's interesting to see how much power our federal government has grabbed for itself over the years.

As we approach another birthday of our country on July 4th, we'd be wise to read the Constitution for ourselves and understand what's in it; see for ourselves what powers the federal government actually is supposed to be limited to and forget what other people have told us the federal government is supposed to do. Seems to me that in order to properly Restore the Republic, we need to relearn what the federal government's duties, obligations and purposes are supposed to be, rather than continue to blindly support the Leviathan that it has turned into.

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