July 6, 3013 By Jack Jodell.
Our Founding Fathers blessed us with a revolutionary form of government; one that has withstood challenges both from within and without for more than 237 years. It has endured through many wars and economic crises. Part of the reason it has lasted so long has been the fact that these Founding Fathers wisely imbued it with a system of checks and nalances by creating three separate, but fully equal, branches of government. Each of these, the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial, were given distinct powers and responsibilities, and each was prevented from attaining absolute power by the counterbalancing powers invested in the other branches. Our very wise founders even foresaw that changes may have to be made in future times, so they provided us with a Bill of Rights and the ingenious ability to amend our Constitution, if and when the need would ever arise.
Our government, composed of fallible human beings, has never – and will never be – perfect. It has made a great many mistakes over its lifetime, but at least it has proven to be malleable and therefore open to changes that passing time or events have made necessary.
This is a chart showing our Judicial system. You will notice that the U.S. Supreme Court stands at the very top, and that other, lesser courts can feed into it. At the very bottom of this chart sits our local trial courts. As decisions in each court are rendered, they are able to be appealed to the next highest court if one or more of the plaintiffs or defendants disagree with that decision or wish to have a further clarification made. This next court has the power to either uphold the original decision, refute it, or simply refuse to even consider the appeal at all, thereby allowing the original decision to stand and remain in effect. The absolute final judge on any given legal decision is the Supreme Court, which has the power to interpret various laws and prior lower court decisions and decide whether they are constitutional and should remain unchanged, or whether they should be amended or completely stricken down. As each court hands down a decision, it sets a legal precedent which is followed by the other courts. Precedents are quite important, as they determine how certain laws are to be followed or enforced.
A very large number of cases are allowed to stand in various levels of the lower courts, and only a tiny few make it all the way up to the Supreme Court for consideration. Yet the decisions rendered by the Supreme Court have vastly wide-ranging implications, and often determine the types of future laws that state legislatures and even the U.S. Congress will enact. These are often referred to as landmark decisions because they directly affect the lives of a great many people throughout the country, as well as a number of the country’s institutions.
The Supreme Court has issued a number of these landmark decisions recently. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 (also known as Obamacare) was narrowly deemed constitutional last year, and this will have enormous effects on the entire country when it is fully implemented next year. The Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as being legal only between a man and a woman, was recently declared unconstitutional, which will prove to be a tremendous victory for same-sex couples who have chosen to marry one another and were previously denied certain rights or were unfairly taxed as if they were single. The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, decided in 2010, was, in this blogger’s opinion, a horrendous decision that will have to be revisited again in a future Supreme Court. It effectively equated money with free speech, which even a young child can realize it is NOT, and basically lifted all restrictions and limitations on corporate campaign contributions, giving the rich and powerful a decided advantage in determining the outcome of future political campaigns.
Other prior landmark decisions have included Roe v. Wade, a 1973 decision which made abortion legal for women; Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp., a 1971 ruling which forbade employers from not hiring women solely because they were mothers of pre-school children; Gideon v. Wainwright, a 1963 ruling which stated that anyone charged with a serious crime has the right to an attorney, and that the state must provide one if the person charged cannot afford one; Brown v. Board of Education, a 1954 decision which banned racial segregation in public schools; the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona decision, which stated that suspected criminals must be informed of their right to remain silent as well as their right to obtain an attorney before they can be questioned by law enforcement officials; and Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 ruling which banned laws prohibiting interracial marriage. In addition, there have been many, many others – some good, some bad. For a complete listing of them, I urge you to Google list of landmark court decisions in the United States – Wikipedia. You will find a virtual treasure trove to explore!
As I have described, the Supreme Court makes the absolute, final decision on all legal topics. Very rarely are their decisions overturned by legislation or outright revoked, but it can and does happen on occasion. Usually, Congress will pass legislation with a new interpretation, or one that has been nuanced differently, of a prior court ruling to achieve this end, or to pass a new Constitutional Amendment.
Supreme Court decisions have wavered between favoring individual rights and those of business interests throughout our entire history. In the years following the Civil War, weak or bought-out justices sided with business interests against regular citizens or working people. This lasted until the middle 1930s, when during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a much more liberal Supreme Court emerged. It made the great social and rconomic reforms of the New Deal possible, and radically changed life for the better for the vast majority of the country. This period of liberalism lasted well until the early 1980s, during which time workers’ rights, civil rights, and individual social rights were all broadly expanded. With the arrival of yhe Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s, Republican Presidents began appointing only conservative, pro-corporate and anti-labor judges to the Supreme Court. As the composition of the Court slowly became more conservative and corporatist, workers’ rights and individual social rights began to be curtailed. The net result of this has been a sharp decline in both the power of labor unions and in the average wage rate and buying power of the common American worker. The middle class has begun to disappear, and the ranks of the poor have started swelling. Not so coincidentally, the salaries of the average corporate CEO and big business owner have skyrocketed by comparison during this same time frame. The fundamentals of the American business system and even its tax rates have been altered to the detriment of the majority of the country.
As Presidents are the only ones allowed by law to name new Supreme Court Justices, it is vitally important that we stop electing reactionary, conservative Republicans as President! Why do I say this? Because Republican Presidents since Ronald Reagan in the 1980s have given us a steady and uninterrupted stream of ultra-conservative, anti-worker, anti-minority, and anti-individual rights justices. It was Reagan who gave us the scrappy, combative ultra-conservative Antonin Scalia. George H. W. Bush gave us the arrogant, sullen, and defiant Clarence Thomas. It was George W. Bush who gave us the narrow-minded far-right ideologue Samuel Alito, as well as current Chief Justice John Roberts, who, an overwhelming majority of the time, has sided with the current corporatist conservative bloc who are all determined to overturn or eradicate every important envuronmental, civil, and/or workers’ rights decisions made over the past 50+ years. This legal coup d’etat by the far, far -right must be thwarted quickly, before they succeed in weakening or eliminating such time-honored rights and traditioms as the minimum wage, overtime pay, women’s rights, as well as many other still-very-much-needed environmental regulations. If you believe – as I and many others do – that corporations and big business have grown much too big and powerful; that individual rights are becoming too threatened by the military-industrial complex; and that this 30+ year trend of expanding pay scales only for the very wealthiest few must be stopped and even reversed, then the composition of the Supreme Court must be changed from its current 5-4 corporatist conservatibe majority to at least a 5-4 pro-people, pro-worker progressive majority instead!
The ONLY way we can achieve this is to begin electing PROGRESSIVE Presidents and STOP electing conservative Republican ones! That, readers, is exactly WHY and HOW the Supreme Court really matters to you in your life…and why whomever you decide to send to the White House is so important!