Checks On The Supreme Court

Checks on the Supreme Court by the other branches + other means

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Checks By Congress

  • The Senate confirms all Supreme Court appointments.
  • The House can impeach justices and the Senate can try them and, if found guilty by a two-thirds majority, remove them from office.
  • Congress can alter the number of justices in the court.
  • Congress can initiate constitutional amendments, thereby seeking to over-turn judgements of the Court with which it disagrees, such as the recent but unsuccessful attempts concerning flag desecration, school prayers, abortion rights and congressional term limits.
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Checks By The President

  • Nominates all justices.
  • Can decide either to throw his political weight behing the court (e.g. Eisenhower over the 1954 Brown vs the Board of Education decision) or to criticise it openly (e.g. Nixon over "busing" in 1972 and Bush over flag-burning in 1990)
  • Has the power of pardon.
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Other Checks

  • The Court has no enforcement powers (e.g. Brown vs the Board of Education decision, it depended upon Eisenhower sending in federal troops to desegregate the Little Rock Hight School in 1957.
  • The Court has no initiation power. It must wait for cases to be brought before it. It cannot rule on hypothetical issues.
  • Public opinion can sometimes be a check on the Court (e.g. the Casey decision on abortion rights in 1992).
  • The Constitution itself - some parts of the document are unambiguous and not open to interpretation.
  • The Supreme Court can check itself, as it did in the Brown vs The Board of Education in 1954, overturning the earlier (1896) decision in Plessy vs Ferguson - 'separate but equal'.
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