Supreme Power: 7 Pivotal Supreme Court Decisions That Had a Major Impact on America

Supreme Power: 7 Pivotal Supreme Court Decisions That Had a Major Impact on America

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629723402
Publisher: Shadow Mountain Publishing
Publication date: 09/26/2017
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 850,077
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Ted Stewart was appointed as a United States District Court Judge in 1999 by President Bill Clinton. Prior to that, he served as chief of staff to Governor Michael O. Leavitt, as executive director of the State Department of Natural Resources, as a member and chairman of the Public Service Commission, and as chief of staff to Congressman Jim Hansen. He has been a visiting professor at two state universities, teaching courses in law and public policy. He is the New York Times bestselling author of The Miracle of Freedom: 7 Tipping Points That Saved the World.

Read an Excerpt

"We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is."
-Charles Evans Hughes, then governor of New York and later Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court

In 1831, a young Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville came to the United States to study the American experiment in democracy, then in its infancy. Although his visit lasted only nine months, his powers of observation were so formidable that he was able to write what many consider the best book ever written about our system of government, Democracy in America, the first volume of which appeared in 1835. In that book he stated, "There is almost no political question in the United States that is not resolved sooner or later into a judicial question. [i] What was observably true to a visitor in the first half of the nineteenth century is unquestionably true to most Americans in the first half of the twenty-first century.

If most, if not all, political questions become judicial questions, it makes sense to ask, "Who gets to decide the questions?" Or, more precisely, "Who gets the final word?" The honest answer is, "The Supreme Court of the United States."

Why is that so? Why are nine unelected men and women in fact the final deciders?

A Supreme Court Justice once answered that question, "We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final." [ii] This comment smacks of cynicism, but it is the candid truth and cannot be ignored. The Supreme Court is not unfailing because they are always right. In fact, the quoted Justice also acknowledged that if Supreme Court decisions were subject to further review by another group of judges, they would likely be reversed on occasion. But the fact is-there is no other court!

A decision by the Supreme Court interpreting the Constitution of the United States cannot be reversed except by an amendment to the Constitution or by a subsequent Supreme Court decision. Any Supreme Court interpretation of legislation passed by Congress cannot be undone except by changing the law or having the Supreme Court later change its mind. This is because in all such matters, the United States Supreme Court is final. . . .

This book is written to explain how and in what ways the country we live in today has been shaped, molded, and fashioned by the judicial branch. It tells the stories of seven cases that made their way to the highest court in the land and what the Court, often in a 5-4 split, decided.

We will begin with the case that made all the rest of the cases happen-Marbury v. Madison (1803)-in which the Supreme Court established itself as the final word on what is or is not constitutional.

We follow with the case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Supreme Court decision that ended the efforts in the last half of the nineteenth century to integrate African-Americans into mainstream society, sanctioned state-sponsored segregation, and explains to some extent why our nation remains racially divided so many decades later.

The case of Lochner v. New York (1905) is considered the birth of the judicial doctrine that allows unelected judges wide discretion to decide what the government can or cannot regulate. Although that case dealt with the question of what hours a baker could work, it is the genesis of the abortion and same-sex marriage decisions of decades later.

Next we will explore Wickard v. Filburn (1942), a case that opened the floodgates of federal regulation of commerce and business and has been used to justify the explosion of federal criminal laws and regulations.

A limited interweaving of religion and government existed with little criticism until the case of Everson v. Board of Education (1947). In that case, the Supreme Court decision discovered the previously unknown wall between religion and government that has subsequently been used to remove religion from the public sphere.

A battle cry of the American Revolution was "no taxation without representation!" Yet in Missouri v. Jenkins (1990), the Supreme Court authorized an unelected federal judge to raise taxes on the citizens of a school district in Missouri in order to carry out his dreams and visions for a desegregated public school district.

Finally, we explore the phenomenon of "social reformation without representation" by virtue of Supreme Court decisions such as Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) that have upended the societal, cultural, and moral norms of American society.

Among other reasons, this book has been written to help the reader understand why the entire nation finds itself breathlessly awaiting the major Supreme Court decisions often handed down at the end of its annual term in June of each year. ?It is also hoped that the reader may more fully understand why the battles over who is appointed to the Supreme Court have in some respects come to overshadow the contests for control of either the White House or the Congress.
[i] De Tocqueville, Democracy, 257.
[ii] Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443 (1953), 540 (Jackson, J. concurring).

Table of Contents

  • How the Supreme Court Became Supreme (Marbury v. Madison, 1803)
    • The landmark case in which the Court defined the boundary between separate executive and judical branches of government with judical review.
  • How the Supreme Court Came to Sanction Racism (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896)
    • Upheld state racial segregation laws for public facilities under the doctrine of "separate but equal". It remained the standard until 1954 and the case of Brown v. Board of Ed.
  • How a Law on Bakers' Working Hours Led to Abortion Rights (Lochner v. The State of New York, 1905)
    • Lochner v. The State of New York: In deciding on a baker's right to choose to work whatever hours he desired, contrary to labor laws mandating shortened hours, the Court set itself up as the definer of "liberty." This paved the way for later definitions of "liberty," such as the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy or the right of same-sex couples to marry, defining a wide range of personal choices as "constitutional rights."
  • How 12 Acres of Wheat Led to an All-Powerful Washington, D.C. (Wickard v. Filburn, 1942)
    • Wickard v. Filburn: A farmer who planted 12 acres of wheat beyond the allotted 11.1 acres permitted by the Agricultural Adjustment Act was fined $117.11. Although he grew the wheat only for his own personal use and that of his family, the Supreme Court upheld the penalty, thus wildly expanding what is now known as the "Commerce Power" exercised by Congress. Technically, this power could even regulate the number of cookies a household is allowed to bake, since those cookies are replacing cookies that might otherwise be purchased at a store!
  • How a Nation Founded by Devout Men and Women Came to Ban Religion from the Public Arena (Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township, 1947)
    • Landmark case which applied the Establishment Clasue in the Bill of Rights which built a "wall of separation between church and state."
  • How the Supreme Court Empowered Federal Judges to Raise Taxes, Manage School Districts, and Generally Work Their Will (Missouri v. Jenkins, 1990)
    • Missouri v. Jenkins: A federal judge attempting to enforce school integration ended up forcing a school district to create magnet schools to attract white students from the suburbs into the city. Ultimately, the programs mandated by that judge required enormous tax increases and cost taxpayers $2 billion, which the Supreme Court upheld the federal judge's right to force the school district to levy. Ironically, the programs failed so spectacularly that the school district lost its accreditation! This case gave the judiciary "power over the purse" that it was never intended to have.
  • How the Supreme Court Played a Central Role in Redefining the Values and Culture of America (Obergefell v. Hodges, 2015)
    • The Court held in a 5-4 decision that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equela

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