Guest Column

A brief history of the Supreme Court

Last week, the United States Supreme Court issued two of the most controversial opinions we have seen in years. I cannot remember a time when so many Americans were either upset or happy about events that happened in Washington that did not involve a presidential election. 

Well, how did the Supreme Court garner such power and influence over Americans and our culture? It began with the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court of the United States is the only court specifically established by the Constitution of the United States. The Court was implemented in 1789 to be composed of six members — though the number of justices has been nine for almost all of its history; this number is set by Congress, not the Constitution. 

The court convened for the first time on February 2, 1790. One of the most significant periods during the history of the court was the tenure of Chief Justice John Marshall (1801 to 1835).

In the landmark case Marbury v. Madison (1803), Marshall held that the Supreme Court could overturn a law passed by Congress if it violated the Constitution. This ruling legally cemented the power of judicial review. This case would become the solid bedrock that would put the court on equal grounds with the Executive and Legislative branches of government. 

As time passed, the court would become more political. During the 1930s, the Supreme Court contained both a solid liberal bloc and a conservative bloc of Justices. The court consisted of the four conservative Justices, known as “The Four Horsemen,” their liberal opponents on the bench known as “The Three Musketeers,” while Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes and Justice Owen Roberts controlled the balance by serving as the swing votes. 

Today, the Supreme Court is more politicized and polarized as it has ever been. Thankfully, the court is still led by the young and intelligent Chief Judge John Roberts. 

His leadership has been steady. However, when he was confirmed in 2005, Roberts’ vision was consensus for the court. That consensus has not come to pass. You will see more 5-4 decisions today than at any other time in history. Just like our modern American culture, the court seems split on many of the important issues, values, and worldviews facing the Republic today.

As presidents come and go and members of Congress continue their partisan bickering, the United States Supreme Court will continue to become more powerful and important in the United States; the last bastion of freedom on Earth. 

I pray that God will guide the United States Supreme Court as our country forges on into the unknown and uncertain cultural dynamics that will affect the very idea of America.

(Jason Swindle Sr. is a criminal defense attorney who practices in Coweta County.)




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