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‘A political not judicial institution.’ Discuss this view of the Supreme Court.
Th judiciary is an independent body of the federal government and thus should remain free from political influences, though it remains rather political in nature. The court makes rulings on legislation, it can be influenced by the justices’ ideological beliefs, the process of nomination to the supreme court is carried out by politicians and their decisions can be influenced by public opinion hence making which may lead people to consider them to be a political institution. Though, the court’s justices aren’t able to make decisions based on their own beliefs, the court is constrained by the precedent and many of its cases come down to legal technicalities, hence the Supreme Court cannot be considered political as its work is judicial in practice.
Due to the Supreme Court’s judicial reviews on state and federal government policy it can be consider that the Court legislates from the bench, which is political. Judicial review is a power the court gave to them self in the case Marbury v Madison 1803, it allows them to rule on the constitutionality of federal government action. In the case Citizens United v FEC the supreme court overturned the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act introduced to restrict campaign funding as it viewed it as a violation of companies 1st amendment rights of freedom of speech. The ruling was landmark as it not only meant that donations were now viewed as an expression of free speech but it also change the way companies were viewed by making them protected by the Bill of Rights in the same way that US citizens were. This limits the legislation that the legislative can introduce in the future regarding campaign funding and thus can be considered to have legislated from the bench which is political rather than judicial.
Additionally, the Supreme Courts judicially active rulings have expressed ideological views of the members of court that influence their decisions, this is reflective of politicians. The Roberts courts 4 liberal members and swing justice Kennedy have together made rulings that were judicially active, such as the Oberfell v Hodges case 2015. In the case the Court ruled that gay marriage was a constitutional right guaranteed in the Equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, the ruling overturned a previous court decision Baker v. Nelson (1971) that classed gay marriage as unconstitutional. The ruling in Oberfell overturned a judicial precedent for the purpose of creating desirable social change which is judicially active in nature and thus the split of the court on this case shows that the ruling held an ideological basis making it political.
The process of nomination of Supreme Court justice is carried out by politicians hence it is influenced by political ideas. In 2016 Merrick Garland was nominated by Obama to the supreme court, despite being considered qualified by the ABA the Senate refused to hear his nomination. Due to his qualification, it can be considered that the reason for his nomination is political and not judicial. This was also the case with the nomination of Gorsuch 2017, as the vote in the senate was split 52-48 directly on party lines. The response was not due to Gorsuch’s lack of suitability or judicial capability but as a political plan by the Democrats as a response to the blocking of Garland. The introduction of political and ideological issues in Supreme Court nominations makes the court body political.
Further reason to suggest the court is political rather than judicial is the influence public opinion has had on their rulings. The most significant example is the collection of cases on Roosevelts New Deal, it looked likely that the court would rule the deal unconstitutional but the large show of public support for the reforms led to the court allowing it. The judiciary as an independent body is not subject to the public opinion in the same way that politicians are as justices have security of tenure and are not at risk of losing, their position due to their rulings, whereas politicians are and thus members of congress take on pork barrel projects such as the bridge to nowhere to appease their constituents. Hence it can be considered that the attitude of the judiciary in considering public opinion when making rulings is political rather than judicial.
On the other hand, the judiciary is unpolitical due to the fact that justices may have to go against their own personal beliefs due when ruling. In the case Texas v Johnson justice Thomas ruled that flag desecration was allowed with in the 1st amendment under freedom of speech, despite the fact that he personally believed that flag desecration should be unconstitutional. The limitations that justices face when ruling are unpolitical as politicians are free to make the final decision themselves.
Another argument that suggests that the Supreme Court is a judicial institution is that the justices are constrained by precedent. This can be shown by the case Whole Women’s Health, this came under the 14th amendment ruling that it was a women’s right to access an abortion clinic, the justices can be considered constrained by precedent as in the previous ruling Roe v Wade the court declared abortions a constitutional right. The constraint of previous rulings means that justices have to make the decision irrespective of ideology thus it is unpolitical.
Finally, many of the Supreme Court cases come down to legal technicalities and not moral or personal judgements. For example, the case Snyder v Phelps on whether the Westborough Baptist Church’s protest against an member of the army’s funeral was constitutional. The case came under the 1st amendment and as protest is a form of freedom of speech the supreme court could not legally rule the activity unconstitutional due to the legal basis. Hence the judiciary are judicial and not political as they make decisions based on constitution and not personal judgement.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court fundamentally are a judicial institution as their practices aren’t political. Though the supreme court may influence politics through their rulings they are still legal cases and their ideological views are based on interpretation of legislation and not merely opinion hence they cannot be considered a political institution.
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