Constitutional Power of the Judicial Branch in Early, U.S. Government
Republican ideals suggest an equal distribution of government in multiple branches in order to best represent the people. This Separation of Powers in the United States is distributed among three branches of government on a federal level: A single Executive power (President), a bicameral Legislative body (Congress), and a Judicial Establishment (Supreme Court). Like many other parts of the Constitution, this concept is largely derived from the faults of the original legislation of the United States of America, the Articles of Confederation. In particular, the lack of a federal court was a large issue in the eyes of many Founding Fathers, as there was no Judicial Branch included. In the Constitution, the creation of a Judicial Branch was vital towards the continual success of the system of checks and balances. The powers of the Supreme Court are outlined in Article III of the Constitution and include the power to interpret all laws. The main office occupied by the Judicial branch was to act as the final decider in cases that could not be settled at the state level (to be established by Congress at their discretion) The Supreme Court was the lone court vested with power in the Constitution. The Constitution also states justices of the Supreme Court “shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.” (Article III, Section 1). This is deliberately outlined to insure Justices will be free of political prejudices in the hope of any sort of re-election, and focus solely on the object of justice. Justices are nominated by the President and must be approved by the Senate to assume their position on the Supreme Court. Despite efforts of Constitution writers, it becomes evident in the early years of the Constitution the Judicial Branch was far less powerful than the legislative and executive bodies of government, exemplified by President George Washington’s sending of Chief Justice John Jay overseas to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain in 1794, as he had no domestic cases to handle. Jay and the rest of the Supreme Court were not able to exercise power of the same magnitude as other branches in the early years of the Constitution, and so, it could be argued, served little purpose for the American government. If a Supreme Court Chief Justice could be sent overseas for months in an era of lacking communication, it is obvious the role of the Supreme Court within the U.S. was not held in high esteem at that point in time. This all changed with the establishment of judicial review in Marshall Court, first indicated in the influential case of Marbury v. Madison, and continued in many other cases to follow. It effectively expanded the power of the federal government over the states, and increased the role of the Judicial Branch in government.