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lecture07.1-1 - LECTURE NOTES UCLA PS 40 Department of...

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LECTURE NOTES UCLA Department of Political Science Winter 2010 PS 40 Introduction to American Politics Prof. Thomas Schwartz Hunk 7 Famous Court Decisions Today we’ll discuss how Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Constitution have shaped government in the US. In general there are several influences apart from Supreme Court cases on how government works. Government is shaped by: The Original Constitution Amendments Precedents and Practice Many traits of government in the US come from individual decisions and practices throughout history. Arbitrary conventions, such as driving on the right side and speaking English, arise to coordinate behavior. They congeal as social equilibria, or stable practices. In some ways our Constitution allows us to try out different practices before settling on certain ones. Because, around the world, many new constitutions have lately been written, this indeterminacy or flexibility is important to appreciate. It is not always clear what particular set of practices will result form a given constitution. It depends on the people interpreting and applying it and on the circumstances under which they operate. For example, whether or not the French system is a presidential or parliamentary one is ambiguous; the same is true of Poland and Taiwan. A nice illustration of this point in the American context is Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s practice of acting much like a prime minister during Washington’s first term, when his Federalist Party controlled Congress. Had different parties captured Congress captured Congress and the Presidency early in 1
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our history, the President would have had to choose between a treasury secretary of his own or the opposition party, hence between a pure presidential or more or less parliamentary system of government. Organic Law This consists of the many statutes passed by Congress that flesh out the Constitution with cabinet departments, inferior courts, and the rest of the beehive of national government. Supreme Court Decisions Interpreting the Constitution These are by far the most celebrated interpretive acts. We collect some of the very most important under five heads. Cases affecting the Branches of the Federal Government Marbury v. Madison (1803) It was written by Chief Justice John Marshall and established the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review , echoing Hamilton’s Federalist 78 . It gave courts the ability to find legislative acts unconstitutional , affirming a judicial check on Congress . It was not easy to get away with strengthening judicial power in this way. Marshall was a Federalist: his was the party of Washington and Adams. But the opposing Republicans, of Jefferson and Madison, had just taken power and were suspicious of the courts, peopled as they were by Federalist judges. They were opposed, moreover, to judicial review, and quite willing to ignore the rulings of Federalist judges. Marbury (a Federalist) was appointed by the outgoing president, John Adams, as a justice of
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