Since May and June are the months that the Supreme Court announces opinions, let’s review what the Constitution says about the Judicial Branch in the U.S. Constitution, Article III.
First, the Supreme Court cannot enforce the law, nor does the Constitution give the high court any power to make the law. Its job is to interpret the law.
You might notice if you look up Article lII, that it is short. In Federalist #78, Alexander Hamilton called it the “least dangerous branch” because it has neither “the power of the sword or the purse.” Worth noting is that Hamilton discussed judicial review, but it is not mentioned in the Constitution. Judicial review means that the Judicial Branch can review the other two branches of government to ensure they are acting according to the Constitution. (The Constitution is the supreme law of the land). The power of Judicial Review was established in Marbury vs. Madison, 1803.
Judicial power resides in the Supreme Court and lower courts as Congress determines. So, the Constitution establishes the Supreme Court, but the responsibility of creating, adding, or changing lower courts goes to Congress.
Most Americans believe that judges hold their offices for life. The Constitution says, “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their offices during good Behaviour…” That is, as long as they do not commit impeachable offenses, i.e., “personal misconduct, gross neglect, usurpation of powers or habitual disregard of the public interest.” It is not a lifetime guarantee.
The Framers of the Constitution intended that judges evaluate the law separate from their politics. They must evaluate what is before them in light of this: Does the Constitution allow it?
Article III tells us that a trial by jury for all federal crimes, except in cases of impeachment, must occur in the state where the crime was allegedly committed. If the crime is not committed in any state, Congress may direct where the trial will be held.
Since several followers of this page have mentioned treason in recent comments, let’s see what Article III has to say: “ Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”
It’s interesting to note that the Framers of the Constitution thought it important to include that members of a traitor’s family cannot be punished for his/her crime (known as “corruption of blood). Such was not the case in England, where you could be punished for having treasonous thoughts.
Having considered Article III and the role of the Judicial Branch, how has your opinion changed, if at all?
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship. ??
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