Supreme Court

  • September 25, 2014
    BookTalk
    The Case Against the Supreme Court
    By: 
    Erwin Chemerinsky

    by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law

    How should we assess the Supreme Court’s performance over the course of American history? That is the central question of my new book, The Case Against the Supreme Court. My conclusion is that the Supreme Court often has failed at its most important tasks and at the most important times. Recognizing this is important in order to focus on how to improve the institution and make it much more likely to succeed in the future.

    Obviously the evaluation of any institution requires criteria by which it can be assessed.   In the introductory chapter, I posit that the Court exists, above all, to enforce the Constitution. The Constitution exists to limit what government and thus the democratic process can do. As Marbury v. Madison said long ago, the limits contained in the Constitution are meaningless unless enforced and that is the “province and duty” of the courts. The judiciary is particularly important in protecting the rights of minorities (of all sorts) who cannot rely on, and should not have to rely on, the democratic majority. Also, the courts need to play a special role in times of crisis to ensure that society’s short-term passions do not cause it to lose sight of its long-term values.

    I believe that all, liberal and conservative, can agree that these are fair criteria by which to assess the Supreme Court. I also think that liberals and conservatives can agree that the Court very often has failed. Part I of the book looks at the Court historically. Chapter one looks at the Court’s dismal record over the course of American history with regard to race. For the first 78 years of American history, from 1787 until 1865, the Court aggressively protected the rights of slave owners and upheld the institution of slavery.  For 58 years, from 1896 until 1954, the Court approved and enforced the doctrine of “separate but equal.” The Court’s failure with regard to race continues to this day, as evidenced by the decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which declared unconstitutional a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This is the first time since the 19th century that the Court has invalidated a federal civil rights law to protect racial minorities.

  • September 25, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    The Constitutional Accountability Center offers a review of Chief Justice John Roberts’ tenure on the Court with an introductory chapter penned by Brianne Gorod.

    Amy Davidson argues in The New Yorker that Democrats should stop focusing on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s retirement.  

    Geoffrey R. Stone finds evidence of a more politically polarized Supreme Court in The Huffington Post.

    In Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson profiles the Koch brothers and how they acquired both their fortune and political influence.

    The Editorial Board of The New York Times decries the long lines at polling places in black and Hispanic neighborhoods, arguing that these areas are systematically deprived of resources. 

  • September 24, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In The New York Times, Bob Kocher and Farzad Mostasharib write about McAllen, Texas, an Affordable Care Act success story.  

    Jonathan Topaz explains in Politico why Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg believes she cannot retire now.

    At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Erwin Chemerinsky explains his reasons for writing his new book, The Case Against the Supreme Court.

    Jonathan Bernstein writes for Bloomberg View on the importance of fixing voter registration to make it easier for citizens to vote.

    Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on a Wisconsin judge’s refusal to follow a Supreme Court order to dismiss a voter ID case.

    At Cornerstone, Leslie Griffin argues against the Court’s decision to make a cost-free First Amendment in Thomas and Hobby Lobby.

  • September 22, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Walter Shapiro argues for the Brennan Center blog that the U.S. Court for the Seventh Circuit’s decision on the Wisconsin voter ID law is judicially ordered chaos.

    In the Los Angeles Times, David G. Savage discusses Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s difficult retirement choice.

    The Economist’s Democracy in America blog explains the unlikely alliance of pro-choicers and pro-lifers in the Young v. United Parcel Service case.

    Lisa W. Foderaro reports in The New York Times on the People’s Climate March protest in New York City.

    ACS Board Member, Judge Nancy Gertner (Ret.) writes in the National Law Journal on U.S. District Judge John Bates’ letter to the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committee.

    Zephyr Teachout argues in Salon that through decisions such as Citizens United, the Supreme Court has legalized corruption. 

  • September 19, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law, @atibaellis. This post is part of our 2014 Constitution Day symposium.

    On September 17, 1787, the framers signed the U.S. Constitution. The document they approved 227 years ago is a work of genius as it provided a democratic republic that has endured economic turmoil, mass insurrection, and disasters of various sorts -- forces that have toppled other democracies.  The U.S. Constitution, the oldest enduring written constitution in the world today, has endured and preserved democracy based upon rule of law.

    Although one might point to the advantages and disadvantages of federalism, the dynamics of enumerated powers, or the political compromises that undergird separation of powers as powerful tactics the Constitution deploys, it is not in any of these mechanisms where the genius of the Constitution lies. Its true genius is its mechanism to allow we the people to reinvent our democracy as our times and ethics demand. It is this power of reinvention that has allowed our constitution to endure and matter to the world. 

    This power of democratic transition is best illustrated in the way our Constitution has been reinvented, over time, from a document that enshrined inequality to one that strives for equality. The Constitution of 1787 reflected and implemented a social theory we would not recognize or sanction today. The Constitution endorsed states’ rights (though this name would not be invented until a century later to protect slavery) and left it to the states to structure the social relations of the nation. Thus, despite a Bill of Rights that protected the rights of citizens, the Constitution allowed the chattel slavery of Africans to endure in the United States when it was being abolished in other parts of the world. The Constitution allowed women to be treated as property. Despite our hymns to constitutional genius, the lived experience of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was rooted in inequality.

    To focus merely on the genius of the original document (and as a consequence, elevate those times and those founders) is to fixate on an originalism that suffered subordination and endorsed a hierarchy. And, as our experience with the Civil War illustrates, the country came within a hair’s breath of being dismantled by faction and racism due to an unwillingness to recreate the United States.

    Yet our Constitution endures because it has embedded within it mechanisms by which our evolving notions of equality and justice may receive constitutional protection from the tyranny of caste and status. Though volumes have been written on this topic, it is worth remembering in our celebration of the Constitution that the amendment process and the wisdom of legislators and judges who sought to make manifest the idea of equality helped to preserve the Union at its most imperiled points. One needs only recount the work of Reconstruction, the long march from segregation to Civil Rights, the movement towards women’s equality, and our modern day same-sex marriage cases to see how the long arc of equality has progressed. And all of these changes have been enabled through an American constitutionalism that, in the words of Harper v. Virginia, is not shackled to the political theory of a particular era.