Judicial Review

Judicial Review: Definition & Significance

  • Judicial review is the power of the U.S. courts, particularly the Supreme Court, to assess the constitutionality of actions taken by the executive and legislative branches.
  • This ability allows the judiciary to interfere with and overturn laws, regulations, and executive orders if they are found to be unconstitutional, thus acting as a check on the other branches of government.

Origin of Judicial Review

  • Judicial review is not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. It was established by the landmark Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison (1803), effectively setting the precedent for Supreme Court’s authority over constitutional matters.
  • Chief Justice John Marshall stated in this decision that it is “emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”

Cases and Judicial Review

  • The highest matters of judicial review reach the Supreme Court, although lower federal courts also exercise this power.
  • Decisions made through judicial review are binding and shape American policy, civil liberties, and law. Examples include Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which ruled segregation unconstitutional, and Roe v. Wade (1973), which set a precedent for the legal right to abortion.
  • In many cases, the Court may avoid making decisions on constitutional grounds if possible, adhering to the Doctrine of Avoidance.

Limitations and Criticisms of Judicial Review

  • The Supreme Court’s power of judicial review often becomes a point of discussion amidst its perceived politicization. As justices are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, political ideologies have potential to shape Court decisions.
  • While the Court’s power to interpret the Constitution is vast, it is limited by the specificity of constitutional text. Changes to interpretation usually require generating new case law, which can be a slow and strenuous process.
  • Critics may argue that the power of judicial review can lead to an undemocratic judiciary, as Supreme Court justices are not directly accountable to the public, but have significant power to influence public life through their interpretation of the Constitution.

By understanding the historical origins, usage, and criticism of judicial review, one can gain a deeper appreciation for the complex role of the judiciary in U.S. politics and the balances of power within the U.S. Government.