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Supreme Courts Criticisms Overview

Supreme Courts Criticisms

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body operating in the United States, consisting of nine total Justices (one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices), whom are nominated by the President and voted into office by the Senate. The Supreme Court was designed to include non-elected officials in order to distinguish itself from and keep in check the legislative and executive branches. According to the inscription outside of the Supreme Court Building, "It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is." This was determined in the case of Marbury v. Madison.


Much of this power is given to the Court through a system of trust, that they will interpret and uphold the law of the United States, as well as declare unreasonable laws as unconstitutional to a certain extent. With this power, however, comes inevitable criticism for each landmark Supreme Court ruling that has been made to help redefine American law, in addition to their questionable system of procedures. Aside from becoming the arbiter of the Constitution, the case of Martin v. Hunter's Lessee received a Supreme Court ruling that gave itself the power to decide if a State's interpretation of Federal law is correct.

The main criticism faced by the Supreme Court of the United States is the struggle between judicial activism and judicial restraint. The Court is given the power to strike down any Federal law created by Congress which it deems as unconstitutional, moving outside of Constitutional borders, and it has practiced this many times throughout the years.

Many people believe that the Court was established merely to interpret the law, while only striking down laws in rare cases which extend beyond obvious bounds of rationality. Supreme Court Chief Justices have been accused of using judicial activism when declaring rational laws on the basis of their own beliefs, rather than using the guidelines of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court had some of its more turbulent times of criticism during the Civil War Era, when the nation's ideals were largely divided between the North and the South, and also during the Civil Rights Era, a time when great strides of civil liberty were made by African Americans. While the United States Government was slowly establishing new territories westward which explicitly prohibited slavery, Supreme Court decisions, such as Dred Scott v. Sandford upheld slavery.

Years later, further decisions pertaining to racial ethics also proved to become controversial landmark Supreme Court decisions, once again proving that the Court was a step behind the evolving nature of the United States Constitution.

Another debate in which the Supreme Court perpetually deals with is State versus Federal power. The writers of the Constitution, including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, claimed in the Federalist Papers that their Constitution structure would ensure that the power of the State governments would not be infringed upon.

Many believe that the states should be free to operate within the broad guidelines of the U.S. Constitution, enforced by the central Federal Government. The Supreme Court, however, has been accused of providing too much power to the Federal Government to supersede state power. In addition, the Commerce Clause has been used by the Supreme Court as a way to regulate matters which have little to do with interstate commerce, as the Clause was originally designed for.

NEXT: Understanding the History of the Supreme Court

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