Constitutional Law I Gulasekaram Spring 2017
The Judicial Branch:
Article III of the Constitution grants the supreme court its authority to hear and review cases. It establishes the judicial branch of the federal government. Article VI contains the supremacy clause establishing that the constitution is the supreme law of the land.
Congress has the power to create lower courts, however the constitution demands that there exist a Supreme Court.
Article III grants the Supreme Court appellate review powers, however these are subject to whatever regulations Congress makes. Thus, they can be limited – though to what degree is a gray area. Notice though that Congress cannot touch the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction – that is given by the constitution.
Judicial Review was established in Marbury v. Madison. Marshall said that the Supreme Court had the authority to review the decisions of the other two federal branches and declare their actions unconstitutional if need be.
The basic argument is that the subject matter of the CASES grant the court jurisdiction to hear them. Judicial power extends to “cases and controversies.”
Note: In the United States, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the constitution. Its interpretation is to be determined by the judicial branch, not the executive or the legislative.
This applies even to controversies involving state court decisions on the federal constitution. The supreme court has the authority to review state court judgments and reverse them as well, Martin v. Hunter's Lessee.
The supreme court is the exclusive interpreter of the constitution. Other branches of government must defer to its judgment on constitutional matters or issues.
Political Restraints on the Supreme Court:
Executive: The executive branch chooses what nominees are even considered for federal judicial positions. The legislative branch can confirm or deny them, so the two act as gatekeepers more or less.
Legislative: Justices can also be impeached, same as other federal officials.
Congress can set the size and budget of the court and establish or eliminate lower-level federal courts as it sees fit.
Congress can make “exceptions” to the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction. It can strip the court of its jurisdiction in certain subject matters, making the court unable to make a ruling on certain things, usually politically controversial topics of the time.
Constitutional: A constitutional amendment can be passed to overrule a court's ruling, even on a constitutional subject. This has only happened a few times, like the 14th Amendment overturning the Dred Scott decision.
If an amendment is passed, that amendment supersedes the Supreme Court ruling it overturned. Going forward, the court must ignore its own precedence and rely on the text of the new amendment.
An advisory opinion is a nonbinding opinion advising the petitioner usually another branch of government) of the constitutionality of or interpretation of a law or act.
The Supreme Court typically does not issue these. State courts more often do as their constitutions permit.
The Supreme Court's historical reluctance to issue advisory opinions stems from the belief that doing so is involving the judiciary in the lawmaking process, which is expressly reserved for the legislative branch. It also may allow for a beaten party in the legislature a roundabout way to defeat the legislation by preemptively involving the courts in the hopes that they will defeat the legislation.
Closely related to this are so-called “friendly suits” where both parties agree on some key fact of the case, thus making it difficult to determine whether or not there is a true “controversy” for the court to decide. If there is no controversy, then the court cannot adjudicate the issue, so where is the line drawn? Perhaps best on a case-by-case basis.
Standing is ability for a petitioner to demonstrate to the court there is a sufficient connection to and harm suffered fr
tion in Flast v. Cohen allowing petitioners to challenge a federal statute on constitutional grounds. Later decisions limited it to government action under the Spending Clause.
Zone of Interest: This is a doctrine clarifying that prudential obstacles may be negated by express action by Congress. This can be determined by examining if the injury is addressed in the statute and the party is a protected class by statute.
Congress may issue statutes granting standing to certain groups which they might otherwise not have because of third party or generalized grievance obstacles. These grants of standing may be quite broad in who they encompass as well.
Qui tam suits allow private parties to sue others in the name of the federal government while maintaining their own private interest in the suit, provided they have one. They may even receive personal payment if damages end up being awarded.
States and standing: If a state enacts constitutional amendments by vote (propositions) then citizens may not step in to defend them if the state refuses to respond to a later constitutional challenge.
Mootness and Ripeness
These issues pertain to limits on the timing of adjudication.
Mootness – This doctrine requires that there must exist an actual controversy at all stages of review. If there does not, then the issue is said to be moot, and the proceedings conclude.
If changing circumstances during the trial end the original controversy such that the parties no longer have a dispute, then the mootness doctrine can be invoked. If there is no longer a controversy, then why should the court continue to hear the case?