The Supreme Court. The President of the United States. Congress. These are the names associated with our three branches of government. Established in the Constitution, the idea was to create a balance of power. Essentially, each branch has its own powers and responsibilities:
- Executive – This is the branch in charge of enforcing laws of the United States. The president is the head of this branch, commanding the military as well as carrying out decisions made by the government.
- Legislative – The lawmakers. Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) oversee this branch along with various other agencies. Creating laws is the power given to this branch.
- Judicial – Our court system comprises this last branch, with the Supreme Court being the highest one. Interpretation is the role of this system; the Supreme Court itself is in charge of determining the meaning of laws, how to apply them in real life cases, and if they are even valid.
The power to overrule
As you can see, they each have their own power. In theory, they are to work together and be unable to overrule each other. Yet theory doesn't always work as intended. There are cases, such as Brown vs. Board of Education, which demonstrate the benefits of this system. But other times in history, this has not been the case. Following Abraham Lincoln's death, President Andrew Johnson was unable to wield any power against the Republican Congress of the time (they even attempted to impeach him). How and why does this happen?
Unfortunately, in politics, there are politics. In the Johnson case, the controlling party of Congress was opposite him. Thus, to consolidate power they opposed nearly everything he attempted. While a president has veto power, it is still possible for Congress to override that. This can seriously compromise a presidency and prevent changes a president may attempt. However, such cases pale in comparison to the issues of our modern times.
A crisis of conscience
The Supreme Court is incredibly powerful, able to overturn laws and drastically alter the Constitution. Exploring the history of the Supreme Court is both fascinating and worrisome. Long held as the "conscience" of America, landmark decisions handed down by the court long protected individuals' rights. The court established Miranda rights (known due to cop and lawyer shows) that guaranteed many rights for those arrested. Roe vs. Wade gave women rights over their own bodies.
However, since the Reagan administration, the Supreme Court has systematically undone many of the rights established by previous justices. Increasingly, big business has been given favor over individuals. There is evidence that many of the current justices are now corrupted the same way many politicians are.
Justice Scalia famously refused to recuse himself from cases involving Dick Cheney, even after going on personal trips with him. Mounting evidence points to some of them presiding over cases where they have a financial interest, a total conflict of interest for any judge. Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose the $100,000 spent on his nomination. Justices are appointed for life to prevent them from getting influenced by such politics or by other members of the government.
State of the nation
The current Supreme Court is set to deregulate bribery with the McDonnell corruption case. It is argued that politicians receiving "gifts" is not corrupt. In addition, there is growing concern they may be attempting to dismantle Roe vs. Wade itself. The future of the highest court in the land is uncertain, as four justices could possibly get replaced in the coming years.
The idea of the checks and balances system in the Constitution is a noble one. But such collusions, either by a powerful Congress in opposition to the president or judges ruling based on their own self-interest, have seriously undermined our government. But we have seen this Supreme Court undo decisions made by previous ones; perhaps a drastic change in personnel will awaken its conscience once again.