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Opening pages of the chapter highlight how much of a difference a single Supreme Court Justice can influence how our laws and the Constitution are interpreted. The inclusion of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in McConnell v. FEC (2003) and her absence in Citizen’s United v. FEC (2010) substantially altered the role of money in the US electoral process. Chapter 10 The Judiciary
Liebeck v. McDonalds 79 year old woman Received 3rd degree burns, required skin grafts and 8 days of hospitalization, offered to settle out of court for actual costs and future costs for $20,000. McDonalds offered $800. Jury found the corporation willfully negligent as it has had 700 similar complaints and has not addressed the issue. Punitive award of $2.7 million in damages is two days of coffee sales in the US. Total damages were reduced by the court to $640,000. Frivolous lawsuits?
A group that seeks to make inroads on a specific policy will carefully craft a specific case in order to address a single provision, rather than have it dismissed on other grounds. The NAACP and its Legal Defense Fund was very effective in this regard. Test cases Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) Had the case been simply a clear case of “separate but equal” the Court would likely not have heard it. Because early briefs indicated that the plaintiff might argue on the question of a legal definition of what is meant by black (Plessy could “pass” as white) the Court chose to hear the case. Plessy’s lawyers then chose to pursue the issue solely on the question of whether “separate but equal” was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.
Brown v. BOE (1954) The Brown case was unique in that there was no claim to inequality in facilities or faculty. Brown was argued on the idea that segregation itself was discriminatory. The Freedom Riders: A series of cases where college students rode across the South on buses utilizing the Interstate Commerce Act to advance issues of desegregation. By focusing on federal laws rather than state laws, the LDF did some venue-shopping to move from an unfriendly political arena to a friendly one. Test cases
A check of the executive on the judiciary is their ability to appoint federal judges. This is a substantial power that affects society much longer than the term of the president. By preventing appointments through the use of filibusters, the Senate takes this power away from the president and transfers it to themselves. The president is normally elected by a majority of the citizens. The Senators who veto the president’s appointments are elected by a minority. Political appointees
A jurist should be the best and the brightest, however, Chief Justice Roberts points to an issue that is faced by all levels of bureaucracy. It is difficult to attract talent to government service when it pays a tiny fraction of what can be earned in the private sector, particularly when a catastrophic illness later in life can bankrupt moderate incomes. Judicial compensation
An advisory opinion is telling the government ahead of time how the Court would rule on the legality of proposed policies or legislation. The Supreme Court will not do this, but other High Courts in other countries have. The Supreme Court cannot identify every potential eventuality of the implementation or avoidance of a certain policy. Ruling on vague descriptions of a broad law is very different from ruling on the concrete facts of a specific case. The Court could give an advisory opinion that upholds the legality of the law, and then be stuck with this previous opinion. This would tie their hands in regards to ruling on specific cases. Advisory opinion
Court of original jurisdiction – Appellate court – high court. Issues concerning state laws work through the state court system – federal laws through the federal system. The specifics of a civil court case determine jurisdiction I.E. a dispute between citizens of different states involving more than $75,000. State Supreme Courts are usually the end of the line for state issues unless the case involves a Constitutional question or there is significant disagreement between state courts regarding interpretation. Three tiered system & jurisdiction
Attorneys need to use discretion in determining priorities. When this system becomes politicized, these attorneys could be going off on a number of witch hunts. We already discussed the fact that the Bush Administration fired 8 US Attorneys for failure to perform (pursue the types of cases the Administration prioritized). Reagan and Clinton actually fired every US attorney when entering office. US attorneys and discretion
Deals with administrative law and the limits of regulatory power for federal agencies. This is where the judiciary provides a check on the bureaucracy. A pro-business judge in this court has the potential of rolling back federal legislations across the board The DC court is the most common stepping stone for Supreme Court justices. This is a place where it becomes obvious how a judge sits ideologically on the question of the government’s right to regulate industry. There are currently four justices of the Supreme Court who were judges of the DC Circuit: Chief Justice Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, and Ginsburg DC Circuit Court of Appeals
Precedent is intended to make the actions of the judiciary predictable. Individuals and their attorneys, recognizing the likely outcome of litigation, will resolve their issues without necessarily going to court. With a polarized society and an equally polarized judiciary, outcomes become less predictable. “at times judges carve out new ground and ignore, decline to follow, or even overrule precedents to reach a different conclusion.” We have already discussed two cases where the Supreme Court overruled itself in a relatively short period of time; McConnell v. FEC (2003) and Citizen’s United v. FEC (2010), and Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003). According to the textbook, this lack of predictability is why we have so much litigation in the US today. Precedent and stare decisis
The current Supreme Court is made up of 5 conservative justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, and 4 liberal justices. 5-4 decisions are commonplace and have been in recent years as conservative justices have often been replaced with conservative justices and liberal justices with liberal ones. The retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor marked a major shift in the makeup of the Court. The current court
The Supreme Court does not hear all cases presented to it. They select the cases that they will hear through the “rule of four.” If four of the justices vote to hear a case, it is granted a writ of certiorari. • Most cases heard involve: • The federal government asking for review • Conflict among the courts of appeals • Civil rights or civil liberties question • Ideological or policy preferences of the justices • Or, Significant social or political interest – the Court receives a number of interest group amicus curiae briefs Oyez! Oyez!
The textbook emphasizes these concepts as deference to legislative decisions, but restraint and activism also relate to stare decisis. We have already discussed the importance of stare decisisas it relates to the predictability of the judicial system. This is also important when it comes to the reputation of the Court. The Court remains effective as long as it is perceived to be acting in a non-political, nonpartisan manner. If the Court and the justices appear to be advancing the political interests of the party that put it in power, it loses legitimacy. Judicial restraint and judicial activism
“Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.” Bush v. Gore (2000) • “The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.” Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) Justice stevens and the Legitimacy of the Court
Judicial restraint/activism is broadly misunderstood within our polarized society. Most see judges as restrained or activist based on whether they agree with them or not. In reality, the concept is based on whether they show deference to legislators when possible and when they respect stare decisis. The politics of the court
The Warren Court have often been accused by critics of the decision of being an example of judicial activism. The Warren Court was very specific and clear that they were not overturning Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). What they did establish was that public education had advanced to the point where it was a determinant of future successes and that the concept of “separate but equal” should not play a role in something so critical to an individual’s life chances. Brown v BOE (1954)
“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Justice Stevens in dissent. The decision undermined any remaining legislation that limited economic power in determining our elected officials. Citizens united
Textbook talks about polls showing 62% support for Citizen’s United. Victory Enterprises selling their polling services to the highest bidder. Executive officers are all active in Republican campaigning. Poll is then echoed in the conservative media. http://abcnews.go.com/images/PollingUnit/1102a6Trend.pdf Citizen’s United ABC – Washington Post poll
Public Agrees With Court: Campaign Money Is "Free Speech" Campaign donations as free speech – 57% Same rules should apply to individuals, corporations, and unions – 55% Government place limits on donations of individuals – 61% Government place limits on donations of corps and unions – 76% http://www.gallup.com/poll/125333/Public-Agrees-Court-Campaign-Money-Free-Speech.aspx?CSTS=alert Gallup poll