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The Supreme Court and Constitutional Interpretation


The first three Articles of the Constitution lay out the three co-equal branches ... Article III the Supreme Court. Interprets the laws. The Judicial Branch ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Supreme Court and Constitutional Interpretation

The Supreme Court and Constitutional
Shan Sivalingam UW Law School Street Law May
The Constitution
  • The first three Articles of the Constitution lay
    out the three co-equal branches of the United
    States government.
  • Article I the Congress
  • Writes the laws
  • Article II the President
  • Enforces the laws
  • Article III the Supreme Court
  • Interprets the laws

The Judicial Branch
  • Article III of the Constitution
  • The judicial power of the United States, shall
    be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such
    inferior courts as the Congress may from time to
    time ordain and establish.

Appeals to the Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court
Supreme Court has complete discretion over
whether to allow a party that loses at the Court
of Appeals to have an additional appeal
U.S.S.C. may review a state appellate courts
interpretation of federal law.
12 Regional U.S. Courts of Appeals (1st 11th
and District of Columbia Circuits) (Washington
State is located in the Ninth Circuit)
State Appellate Court
Losing party (except the Government in criminal
prosecutions) automatically gets to appeal to the
Circuit Court of Appeals for the Circuit in which
the District Court is located.
94 Federal District Courts (Seattle is located in
the Western District of Washington)
State Trial Court
(No Transcript)
The Supreme Court
  • Marbury v. Madison (1803 Supreme Court opinion by
    Chief Justice John Marshall)
  • It is emphatically the province of the
    judicial department to say what the law is.
  • As a result, Supreme Court gets the final say on
    what the Constitution and federal laws mean.

The Supreme Court
Front Row (L to R) Anthony Kennedy, John Paul
Stevens, Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin
Scalia, David Souter Back Row Stephen Breyer,
Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito
The Supreme Court
  • 9 justices hold office for life
  • Nominated by the President
  • Confirmed by the Senate
  • A majority (usually 5 justices) needed to prevail
  • The Court is bound by the Constitution and its
    own past decisions (called precedent) on
    Constitutional issues when it decides new cases.

The Conservatives
Chief Justice John Roberts Justices Antonin
Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito
The text of the Constitution and federal laws
means exactly what it says. If the text is
clear, there is no need to look to legislative
intent. The Constitution creates a federal
government of limited powers. So all powers not
expressly granted to the federal government can
only be exercised by the states.
The Liberals
Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth
Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
Sometimes, you have to look beyond the text of
the Constitution or federal laws to legislative
history, congressional committee reports, and
public policy to decide what the text means,
especially in the context of individual rights.
Although the Constitution gives the federal
government a fixed set of enumerated powers, the
federal government has broad authority to
regulate matters which the conservatives believe
are reserved for the states to regulate.
The Swing Vote
Justice Anthony Kennedy
Approach every case pragmatically. Sometimes,
the text will be clear. Sometimes you will have
to look beyond the text to other sources. Decide
on a case-by-case basis. The federal government
is a government of enumerated powers and the
states have all powers that the Constitution does
not specifically assign to the federal government.