John Marshall started the whole thing -- inserting party politics into landmark Supreme Court cases I mean. There have been a plethora of them since Marbury v Madison was handed down some 209 years ago.
That ruling, on the surface, seemed to revolve around whether Secretary of State James Madison would have to deliver the documentation to secure a job for William Marbury as Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia.
The power in the federal government had shifted, you see, from the Federalist Party to the Jefferson Republicans with the election of 1800. The primary reason for the "revolution" was that John Adams and the Federalists had tried to expand their powers beyond those prescribed by the Constitution. They tried to squelch freedom of speech and freedom of the press in one fell swoop. This didn't sit well with the voting public and Adams was fired for his arrogance -- along with a great majority of Federalist Congressmen. Don't take my word for it. Look it up. You'll find plenty of information on the subject under the Alien and Sedition Acts.
The only branch of government that the Federalists would control would be the judiciary, because Federal judges are appointed for life. It's all part of the system of checks and balances, don't you know.
Now Chief Justice John Marshall was tempted to force Madison's hand and make him give Marbury his commission and that is what everyone expected him to do. But not so fast my friend! All that would have done was give the Federalists one more insignificant jurist in the nation's capitol, which wasn't much of a town back in 1803. Marshall had bigger fish to fry -- with apologies to Paul Johnson.
Marshall ruled, instead, that the Judiciary Act of 1791 -- the law which said that the secretary of state was required to administer the appointments in the first place -- was unconstitutional because Congress had no authority to assign jobs for the secretary of state. That, according to the Chief Justice -- was a clear violation of the separation of powers that our Founding Fathers had written into the Constitution -- as a way to protect the citizens, ironically, from the tyranny of the government,
What Marshall did, in fact, was create judicial review. He established a precedent by which the Supreme Court could overturn a law passed by the Congress of the United States and signed by the president. Marshall elevated the Supreme Court to a co-equal status with the legislative and executive branches of the government.
It wouldn't be the last time the nation was shocked by a ruling by the Supreme Court.
There have been dozens -- or even hundreds -- of landmark cases that changed the course of history of the United States. Often, when these rulings were handed down, the losing political side was convinced that said decision would result in the ruination of the nation.
Some of the rulings have passed the test of time and remain the basis for the interpretation of the law to this very day. Others have been overturned as times and opinions change. You will recognize many of them from your study of history and civics.
The Dred Scott Decision helped rush the nation headlong into civil war and Plessy v Ferguson legalized segregation in this country based on the statute of separate but equal facilities. Brown v the Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., overturned Plessy v Ferguson. The court said could and the court also said could not. There were groups who thought the sky was falling with each decision and, yet, the sky is still overhead.
Roe v Wade legalized abortion in all 50 states and is terrible case law, no matter where you come down on the pro-life/pro-choice side of the arguments. Miranda v Arizona protected the civil rights of accused criminals and Roth v US protected pornography, to a degree, as freedom of expression.
We could go on and on and on, of course.
On Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts shocked the political conservatives who thought he had their collective backs for the second time in a week by voting with the left on two explosive cases. The first was a mere hand grenade, as parts of Arizona's immigration law were struck down. The other was a nuclear blast by comparison. Obamacare was upheld in a decision so confusing that most major news agencies reported that the law had been struck down before they reported that the law had been upheld.
The president, who had been insisting for two years that the law was legal under the commerce clause of the Constitution, but was not a tax was elated, nonetheless, when Judge Roberts announced that by a 5-4 vote the Court had upheld the law as a tax, even though it was not legal under the commerce clause.
And now we have set the stage for perhaps the biggest election in our nation's history. Democrats say that the ruling clearly vindicates President Obama and answers all his critics who are against the health care law. Republicans say that all the Supreme Court has done is to awaken a sleeping giant and rally the anti-tax-and-spend troops for the November election.
Time will tell. Meanwhile supporters of John Roberts are left to wonder if he is merely crazy, or crazy like a fox.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.