Supreme Court and Public Policy

Supreme Court and Public Policy

Role and Impact

  • The Supreme Court’s foremost role is to interpret the U.S. Constitution, making it instrumental in shaping public policy through its rulings.
  • Its judicial review power can overrule actions of Congress or the President if deemed unconstitutional. It can therefore block or modify government policies.
  • Its decisions establish legal precedents, which lower courts are bound to follow, significantly impacting future policy-making and legal interpretations.

Prominent Cases Impacting Public Policy

  • Noteworthy cases like Brown v. Board of Education have resulted in substantial changes to American public policy, upholding equal educational opportunities for all races.
  • Roe v. Wade, by guaranteeing women’s reproductive rights, radically impacted health and societal policies.
  • The judgment in Obergefell v. Hodges revolutionised policy towards LGBT rights by ensuring the recognition of same-sex marriage nationwide.

Policy Shifts and Ideological Leanings

  • The Supreme Court’s influence on public policy often reflects the ideological balance of the court, with more conservative or liberal Justices leading different policy trajectories.
  • With changes in the Court’s composition, policy directions may shift, reflecting the ideological preferences of new Justices.
  • For example, with a conservative majority, the court may favour policies that limit government intervention, uphold law enforcement prerogatives, and prioritise individual freedoms.

Limitations on Influence

  • Despite its significant power, the Court’s influence on public policy is restrained by the principles of stare decisis (respect for precedent) and justiciability (whether a matter is appropriate for court review).
  • The Supreme Court cannot create policy; it can only review the constitutionality of policies made by the legislative or executive branches.
  • It is contingent on other branches for enforcement of its rulings, limiting its direct power to implement policy changes.

Controversies and Criticisms

  • The Supreme Court’s influence over public policy often leads to accusations of judicial activism – the perception that Justices are making law, not just interpreting it.
  • Critics argue that the unelected Justices can unduly affect policies impacting millions, challenging the democratic principles of accountability and representation.
  • Others claim that ideological divisions lead to politicisation of the court, undermining its role as an impartial institution in charge of interpreting the Constitution.