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   Could it be [Supreme] court's not as important as people think?

NEWS INFORMATION

Parent

Parent

News Date

7/26/2005 8:00 am

Author

Media

Orlando Sentinel

Category

Opinion

Database Record

Entered 7/26/2005, Updated 7/26/2005

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With all the hullabaloo about the nomination of federal appeals court Judge John G. Roberts Jr., it's easy to start imagining that the country's entire future depends on the makeup of the Supreme Court. That would be a mistake. Although the Supreme Court is undoubtedly an important American institution, it matters much less -- and much differently -- than most people think. In theory, the court is a "counter-majoritarian" institution. That's a fancy way of saying that unlike the president and members of Congress, who must be elected by political majorities, Supreme Court justices are appointed and, once in place, they not only serve for life, but have the power to strike down legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president. Over the years, political scientists and legal scholars have struggled to defend the court's seemingly undemocratic aspects. The most common defense highlights the court's role as guardian of our Constitution: There must be some institution empowered to take the long view, enforcing constitutional provisions even when temporary majorities want to scrap them. A related defense holds that the court's job is to protect minorities from being trampled on by numerical majorities. Both these arguments take for granted that the court is willing to take strong, powerful, principled stands against legislators and, in some cases, against the majority of voters. Recently, however, many scholars have questioned that assumption.


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