Supreme Court: Bill of Rights

Supreme Court: Bill of Rights

Supreme Court and the Bill of Rights

Role of Supreme Court in Interpreting the Bill of Rights

  • The Supreme Court is the ultimate judicial authority in the United States, and has the power of judicial review to interpret the Constitution and its amendments, including the Bill of Rights.
  • It is the Court’s duty to ensure the consistency of state and federal laws with the Constitution.
  • The Court’s decisions become precedent — established principles or rules — which contribute to the development of constitutional law.

Landmark Cases: First Amendment

  • The case of New York Times Co. v. United States (1971) showcased the Court ensuring First Amendment rights. The Nixon administration’s attempt to prevent the publication of what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers was deemed as unconstitutional prior restraint on free press.
  • In Engel v. Vitale (1962), the Supreme Court declared school-sponsored prayers as a violation of the First Amendment, reinforcing the principle of separation of church and state.

Landmark Cases: Fourth Amendment and Due Process

  • The Supreme Court’s judgment in Mapp v. Ohio (1961) incorporated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures to the states.
  • In Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), the Supreme Court held that states are required under the Sixth Amendment to provide an attorney in criminal cases for defendants unable to afford their own, evidencing the application of due process.

Interpretation and Politicisation

  • While interpreting the amendments, the Justices may consider their original intent, as per the founding father’s ideas, a practice known as originalism.
  • Some Justices subscribe to the theory of Constitutionalism where the Constitution is a ‘living document’ and interpretation must evolve as society changes.
  • Critics argue that these contrasting interpretative philosophies can lead to politicisation of the Supreme Court, wherein decisions are influenced by the justices’ personal and political beliefs.