Archive | June, 2015

Supreme Court’s Historic Decisions

30 Jun

In the past week the Supreme Court has made landmark decisions.  They decided cases involving Gay Marriage, the Fair Housing Act, Affordable Care Act, and redistricting among other cases.  There have long been disagreements with decisions the court has made from both sides.  I have been disappointed with several decisions the court has made but I would never deny that they have a place in our democracy.

The Supreme Court had little power up until the case Marbury vs. Madison in 1803.  There are few that remember who the first Supreme Court Justice was, but there are many who can name the person who made it as powerful as it is today.  Justice John Marshall was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Thomas Jefferson.  It is thought that one of the reasons Jefferson appointed John Marshal was to get him out of the way by giving him a weak job.  If that was Jefferson’s plan it backfired because Justice Marshall made the court as powerful as it is today.

William Marbury was appointed Justice of Peace by outgoing President John Adams. * Marbury was one of the appointees who was not confirmed by congress.  The new Secretary of State James Madison refused to appoint Marbury to the position he was promised.  Marbury sued, trying to force the new Administration to appoint him.  Chief Justice John Marshal ruled that although the new administration was wrong not to appoint Marbury a position he was promised, the Supreme Court could not force the new administration to appoint him.  This case created legal precedent for Judicial Review.

In recent years, in particular, the Supreme Court has been used as a political punching bag.  The term judicial activist has been thrown out to describe a decision that someone disagrees with.  I don’t agree with everything the court has done but I don’t deny that it is an important part of our government.  The Supreme Court has made many important decisions on Civil Rights, rights for accused, and redistricting rules to name a few.

The Republicans have made some stupid comments after the court ruled to uphold the Affordable Care Act and expand gay marriage in all 50 states. I think that the reactions from the GOP over last week’s Supreme Court decisions are absurd.  Some have suggested that we defund or simply ignore the Supreme Court.  Obviously that can not be done. The makeup of the Supreme Court changes only when one of the current members resigns or dies. At that time, the President nominates someone to take that place and the senate must approve or disapprove of the nomination. The new nominee is then sworn in and takes a seat on the court. Decisions made by the court are made by all nine of the members. Their ruling becomes the law of the land until it is challenged by a lawsuit.  The Court has reversed itself on several decisions over the years in this manner.

The court’s decision had been building for some time.  (They allow gay marriage in states that already had it.)  Progress for gay rights have been slow over the years.  Ten years ago things were completely different.  One state recognized same-sex marriage, and almost every state that held a referendum voted to ban gay marriage.  I worked to fight the 2006 amendment to ban gay marriage in Wisconsin.  While the Democrats gained control of the state senate and congress, the amendment still passed.  I didn’t think that things would change so quickly in less than 10 years.

The other Supreme Court decision that made headlines this week was that they again upheld the Affordable Care Act, specifically the subsidies.  This was important because of how many people already have health care through the subsidies.  I was surprised by the decision because the court in recent years has voted mostly among party lines (when they were appointed.)  With this decision it means that it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will strike down the law if another case comes to them in the future.  I hope that this settles the matter of the Health Care Law once and for all.

* David F. Forte, Marbury’s Travail: Federalist Politics and William Marbury’s Appointment as Justice of the Peace, Catholic University Law Review, p. 402 Vol 45:349