Supreme Court Power Struggles Started in 1800 and Continue Today

More than two centuries before the fight to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, President John Adams nominated his Secretary of State, John Marshall, to the court just before leaving office. Adams, a Federalist, had just lost the presidency to his arch-rival, Thomas Jefferson. an anti-Federalist or Democrat-Republican. Adams desperately wanted a legacy, which he certainly got in Marshall, who turned out to be the longest serving Supreme Court justice in history. Marshall wrote the ground-breaking, landmark opinion in Marbury vs. Madison, which established the principle of judicial review of laws passed by Congress and essentially made the high court a co-equal branch of government.

Adams’ appointment infuriated Jefferson, who despised Marshall, his cousin, who he viewed as an anti-democratic elitist. TJ was also furious when the Federalist-controlled Senate reduced the number of Supreme Court justices from six to five, depriving him of the right to appoint a justice. The Senate also quickly passed the Judiciary Act of 1801, expanding lower courts by 16. On the night before Jefferson took office, Adams rushed the appointment of these “midnight judges.” The Washington Post, in its Retropolis column, recalled the power struggle between Adams and Jefferson over the role of the Supreme Court.

To retaliate against Adams and the Federalists, Jefferson and his supporters in 1802 repealed the Judiciary Act. He then launched an impeachment trial against Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, as the Post recounted in another article. Chase had accused Jefferson of seeking a “mobocracy, the worst form of all government.” In 1804, the House of Representatives did indeed impeach Chase, but he was acquitted by the U.S. Senate, which did not vote the two-thirds majority necessary to remove a justice from the court.

By the time he left office in 1809, Jefferson succeeded in expanding the court. But by then, Marshall was a powerhouse of judicial influence. So you could say that in the long run, the Federalists and anti-Federalists learned to co-exist in American legal politics, just as liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, have learned to tolerate and even respect each other in American politics. Note the friendship between Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Anthony Scalia, who had opposite judicial philosophies.

Crash Course Government and Politics: “Judicial review is the power to examine and invalidate actions of the legislative and executive branches. It happens at both the state and federal court levels, but today we’re going to focus primarily on the court at the top – the Supreme Court of the United States. Now it’s important to remember that the court has granted itself these powers and they aren’t found within the Constitution, but as with the executive and legislative branches, the courts rely heavily on implied powers to get stuff done.” Transcript.

Judicial Decisions

Crash Course Government and Politics: What are “the actors that influence judicial decisions? As you may have noticed, the Supreme Court handed down some pretty big decisions on same-sex marriage (in Obergefell v Hodges) and the Affordable Care Act (in King v. Burwell). Now, it’s important to remember that these decisions are not made in a vacuum, but influenced by the other branches of government, political affiliations, and past court decisions. We’re also talk about a judge’s judicial philosophy – that is their relative restraint or activism in making decisions on laws. Judicial restraint is often equated with conservatism, but as we’ll show you, this is not always the case.” Transcript.

Related:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Legal and Women’s History

Explaining the 3 Branches of the U.S. Government: Essential to Understanding the News and Politics

Thomas Jefferson’s Wisdom, Brilliance, Flaws and Idea of Democracy Shaped America

Worst and Best Supreme Court Decisions. What If Reversed?

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