As Alexander Hamilton stated in “The Federalist No. 78,” “The judiciary, from its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution.” What Hamilton meant by this is that the Judicial Branch depends on both the Legislative and Executive Branches to enforce the Supreme Court’s decisions, and that the Court’s only power is to decide court cases.
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The Constitutional powers of the Supreme Court include original jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction. However, since the founding period, the powers of the Judicial Branch have evolved and grown. Today, the Supreme Court has the power to check the other branches of the U.S. government. The Judicial branch can check the Legislative Branch by having the power to declare a law unconstitutional. The Judicial Branch can also check the Executive Branch by having the power to rule a presidential action or law unconstitutional.
There are also checks placed on the Supreme Court. The court has the power to accept as many or as little cases as the justices decide on. This is a self-imposed limit by the court, wanting to avoid partisan politics by refusing to decide political questions. Other checks on the Supreme Court include presidential appointments, executive enforcement, congressional powers, and federalism. Congressional powers include the power of Congress to determine appellate jurisdiction. Federalism, similar to executive enforcement, says that states are responsible to enforce court decisions. This can be a check on the court because state enforcement of the Supreme Court’s decisions have been insufficiently strict in the past.
The Legislative Branch has the power to make laws. It is the only branch where U.S. voters can vote directly for its members, opposed to voting for electors in the presidential election. It is arguably the most important branch of the U.S. government.
In 1689, John Locke wrote in his book “The Second Treatise of Government” that “The legislative cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands; for it being but a delegated power from the people, they who have it cannot pass it over to others.” Locke, along with the framers of the Constitution, believed that the legislative was the most important. The framers limited the legislature’s powers due to their fear of it gaining too much power.
Some constitutional limits on the Legislative Branch include Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 of the Constitution, also known as the Elastic Clause. This clause states that the Legislative Branch has the power “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper.” This clause stops Congress from making unnecessary laws. Congress is limited by the Constitution under Article I, Section 9 as well, which lists powers denied to Congress. Clause 5 states Congress cannot tax a state’s exports, clause 7 states Congress cannot take money from the Treasury, and clause 8 states Congress cannot grant titles of nobility. Another limit on Congress is one that protects individual right. The Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, lists rights that Congress “shall not infringe upon.”
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