The Supreme Court


Chase Olson

Where do we go from here? We have a new administration and a Democrat-led Congress, but we also have a right-leaning Supreme Court. Our faith in the system seems to end when the system does not conform to what we want; many liberals in this country would no doubt want to see a left-leaning Supreme Court in place of the current ideological majority. However, changing the makeup of the court at this moment is a solution that is out of reach. This looming roadblock ahead of Democrats and their current legislative might is something that the government and the people will have to live with for the time being.

TLHS Senior Kyle Vasser states, “[There is] too much partisanship in this country for [overturning prior rulings] to not happen…it is likely to happen, as [overturning prior rulings] is common in our history.” While Vasser is correct in his assertion about how common it is for a Supreme Court to overturn a prior ruling, his logic alludes to the “is it settled law” question. This question serves as an indicator as to whether or not a Supreme Court Justice will practice judicial restraint or judicial activism, but it does not have a binding nature. One of the popular uses of the “settled law” question is to ask about foundational decisions such as Roe v. Wade, regarding a woman’s right to a safe abortion. AP U.S. Government and Politics teacher Mr. Baker explains, “During their confirmation hearings, all of these new justices said that…Roe v. Wade is settled law…settled law can still be overturned.” Now, one can’t simply say that a decision is unconstitutional and strike it from law with no reasoning behind that assertion. In decisions such as Roe v. Wade, Obergefell v. Hodges (which dealt with the legality of gay marriage), et cetera, the precedents that have been set are not only about constitutionality and law, but about civil liberties and civil rights, natural rights, and equality, equity, and justice.

The aforementioned terms “judicial restraint” and “judicial activism” respectively refer to the view that the Constitution is either set in stone or an evolving document. If a Justice should practice judicial restraint, they would likely look at the Constitution and read exactly what it says, while a Justice who practices judicial activism would look at the Constitution and read between the lines. To put it in terms of cases such as those referenced earlier, judicial restraint favors the rights that were declared hundreds of years ago, while judicial activism favors rights that were yet to be realized or were denied hundreds of years ago, along with the initially declared set of rights. These two terms set a more accurate definition for a Supreme Court majority; labelling Justices based on their ideological views is somewhat counterintuitive, as they may not rule in a way that the general constituents of the ideology in question would want them to. This current Supreme Court is very solidly a court of judicial restraint, which means that as progressive as Millenials, Gen Z, and future generations are, the laws enacted by their lawmakers may be too progressive for proponents of judicial restraint to accept. Even now, Biden and the Democrat-led Congress face this challenge, although the progressive agenda of some Democrats face even more challenges than the Supreme Court can offer. In real time, the Supreme Court isn’t as much of a problem as centrist Democrats who need conservatives to vote for them to be re-elected. In the long run, the Supreme Court could see a challenge to a standing precedent or a law passed under the Biden administration, but a new law can always be passed in response to that challenge. Mr. Baker states, “That’s the beauty of separation of powers, the fact that you can continually pass legislation to check the power of a Supreme Court’s decision…most Americans have a difficult time with that lengthy process…sometimes it’ll take decades to change.”

The process of American government can be frustratingly slow; the polarization and partisanship that grip this country is a tool for parties to mobilize their bases at the expense of people who have been disenfranchised by the system. In an age where the Supreme Court holds a solid position near the front of American politics, the people need to remember that we have the power to check the highest court in the land, and that their decisions are not always final.