The Judiciary - The Judiciary The History of the Federal...

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The Judiciary The History of the Federal Judiciary The power of the Supreme Court evolved slowly. In the first three years of the nation's existence, the justices did not hear any cases at all. The Supreme Court's immediate priority was to establish its institutional legitimacy. This goal was accomplished in a series of developments under the leadership of Chief justice John Marshall: (1) Defeat of the impeachment proceeding, based purely on political charges, against justice Samuel Chase that validated the doctrine of judicial independence; (2) The issuance of a single majority opinion that enabled the Court to speak with one authoritative voice in lieu of each justice writing separately; and (3) Assumption of the power of judicial review in Marbury v. Madison (1803), making the Supreme Court an equal partner in the governing process with Congress and the president. Once secure in its position, the Supreme Court turned to the task of adjudication. The history of Supreme Court decision-making falls into three eras differentiated by the type of issue that dominated judicial attention during a particular period of time. 1 . From 1787 to 1861, federal-state relations and slavery were the great issues. In Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816) , the Court asserted its right to impose binding interpretations of federal law upon state courts. Three years later, McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) upheld the supremacy of the federal government in a conflict with a state over a matter not clearly assigned to federal authority by the Constitution. Although federal preeminence was written into constitutional theory, it was not until after the Civil War that the theory applied in practice. In fact, the Court played an important role in intensifying regional tensions through its decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), in which federal law (the Missouri Compromise) prohibiting slavery in northern territories was ruled unconstitutional. This decision, moreover, was only the second time that a federal law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The Court's reluctance to use judicial review attests to its still uncertain status in the early part of the nineteenth century. 2. From the Civil War to 1937, the dominant issue was the relationship between government and the economy. The Court acted to support property rights and held that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protected commercial enterprises from some forms of regulation. The justices were merely reflecting the prevailing laissez-faire philosophy of the time. The Court, however, was not blind to the injustices of capitalism and upheld state regulations in over 80% of such cases between 1887 and 1910. As the justices attempted to balance the public interest against private property rights, their decisions became riddled with inconsistencies in distinguishing reasonable from unreasonable regulation or in separating interstate from intrastate commerce. According to justice Holmes, the Court had lost sight of its mission by forgetting that "a Constitution
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is not intended to embody a particular economic theory." The necessities of the Great
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This note was uploaded on 12/14/2009 for the course GOVT 32 taught by Professor Lind during the Spring '09 term at École Normale Supérieure.

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The Judiciary - The Judiciary The History of the Federal...

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