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A Supreme Court legacy

By William Lewis

It has been indicated many times in the past that the United States government is comprised of three co-equal branches of government, serving as a check and balance on each other.

That is true in a very general sense. However, when our government was first formed, the first three articles contained the powers of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.

As it turned out, it became necessary for the legislative and executive branches, consisting of Congress and the president of the United States, to work together in ruling our nation. It has been said that the judicial branch should be free of interference by the other two branches of government so as to maintain its independence.

Actually in the first few years of our government, the judicial branch was considered the least important of our three branches of government. They at first received few cases to work on and it was sometimes difficult to get people to serve on the federal judiciary.

As we went into the 19th century, Chief Justice John Marshall sought to strengthen the federal court. In the 1830s he had a sharp disagreement with President Andrew Jackson. The issue was Indian tribes being removed from Georgia and sent to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Marshall opposed it and Jackson favored it. Finally the Indians were sent to Oklahoma in 1838, although several years earlier Marshall had issued a decision allowing the Indians to stay in Georgia.

There was another national disagreement a few years later between Abraham Lincoln and Chief Justice Roger Taney involving the Dred Scott case. In 1857, Taney’s Supreme Court ruled that a slave was not a citizen of the U.S. and that Congress had no power to bar slavery from any territory.

Lincoln, in his run for the U.S. Senate in Illinois and again in his campaign for president in 1860, vehemently opposed the Supreme Court decision. By the time the Civil War had ended, the 1857 Supreme Court decision was ended.

It can be said that two of our most famous presidents prevailed over the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court justices have a unique role in government from the standpoint that they are given office for life, unlike the president and members of the two house of Congress who are elected for fixed terms. Nine justices serving for life are eventually bound to achieve a large degree of government power and authority, especially since they do not have to face the electoral process.

Recent Supreme Court decisions favoring same-sex marriage in all 50 states by a 5-to-4 vote is a present example of the enormous power that they have. An issue like that should go before the people in a vote, or it should be decided by elected representatives of state government.

It raises serious questions about our democratic form of government for such a system to continue.

There needs to be some study of our form of government and how the judicial branch of government can again return to a more co-equal status with the other two branches of our federal government.

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