At his state of the union address, President Obama criticized the Supreme Court’s recent ruling about political campaign funding and we all watched some of the justices squirm and scowl.
What’s it about and is this something unusual for the Supremes?
Overturning precedent, the ruling treats corporations as individuals and therefore, gives them a freedom of speech that is normally given only to people in the Constitution. Campaign contributions–freedom of speech–now means that any corporation, including foreign ones incorporated here, can give unlimited amounts of cash to candidates.
Some people worry that with deep pockets , a wealthy corporation could run their “own candidate,” favorable to them and could win easily.
For years, conservatives have complained that liberal justices don’t follow precedent and are “activists,” making up law as they want in order to fit pre-determined outcomes. As you can imagine, the liberals are yelling about the Republican-appointed majority on the present court being activist but many conservatives are upset also.
Did the Supreme Court do something they’ve never done before?
No. This is nothing new.
The ruling that is guaranteed to light fires under many Americans is, of course, Roe v. Wade. The court “found” the right to privacy in the Constitution even though the document never mentions any such right.
Has the court become more “activist”–as the conservaties accuse–in the last few decades?
The first “activist” justice was the first Chief Justice, John Marshall. In 1803, the Supreme Court was faced with a minor matter that could’ve been decided easily and with few repurcussions. Even worse than the campaign financing decision recently, Marshall went completely out of his way to create a new law.
The Constitution does not give the Supreme Court the power to review legislation passed by Congress and determine if legislation is “constitutional” or not. Marshall made that up out of thin air! Today, after hundreds of years of the court rulings on “judicial review,” we’ve come to accept this activist role of the court and most Americans think it’s a power the Supremes have always had to exercise.
Why do we allow this?
Marshall’s decision was controversial but finally accepted, giving the Supremes the power to review new laws. Americans accept this power because we need some institution to put an end to disputes and to make final decisions about controversial laws. Here are a few examples:
During President Franklin Rooselvelt’s administration, he helped pass several laws creating new government agencies. His political opponents were furious. The Surpeme Court overturned much of this legislation, saying it was unconstitutional.
In the critical decision of Bush v. Gore, the U.S. Surpeme court stuck its nose in the ballot counting problem from Florida and made a decison that gave the election to George Bush. The Court didn’t have much business involving itself, but the country accepted their opinion as a way to end the drawn-out disputed vote count and put one of the two guys in office as president.
Do you have any thoughts about this? Should the Surpemes even have the power to rule legislation unconstitutional??
See me webite at www.colintnelson.com