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CHAPTER 5 - AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW AND THE ROLE OF THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

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Summary

INTRODUCTION

About a century and three quarters ago, Alexis de Tocqueville remarked that the major issues of American life sooner or later appear as questions for decision by the courts. The truth of his remark was already apparent by the early nineteenth century; of course, different types of problems have, from epoch to epoch, held center stage.

The early decades of the nineteenth century saw the U.S. Supreme Court beginning to map out its own role in the tripartite system of government provided for in the new Constitution. In a series of important decisions, the early Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John Marshall not only established the principle of judicial review of federal legislative action but also gave meaning to important structural Constitutional provisions, such as the Commerce Clause, that defined the respective spheres of competence of the states and the new federal government.

From roughly 1885 to 1937, the judiciary was increasingly involved with economic and regulatory issues. In the 1930s, a constitutional crisis developed. The Supreme Court struck down on constitutional grounds the basic elements of President Franklin Roosevelt's “New Deal,” which contemplated large-scale governmental intervention in national economic life. With a view to overcoming this judicial veto, Roosevelt proposed that the Court's membership be increased. The highly controversial proposal, which was known at the time as the “court-packing plan,” was never implemented. More or less coincidentally with the plan's surfacing, significant changes in the Court's membership occurred.

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Law in the United States , pp. 134 - 161
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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