Wednesday, July 3, 2013

John Marshall’s Legacy of Independence

On every Fourth of July, Independence Day,  we celebrate what makes the United States of America different from other countries.  200 years ago the fourth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme court, John Marshall, was appointed by President John Adams.   For 34 years he headed the nation’s federal judiciary, which helps insure our independence.

Marshall was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and was Secretary of State before being appointed Chief Justice.  He served during seven different presidential terms, dying in 1835 during Andrew Jackson’s second term.  He still holds the record for longest serving Chief Justice.

Before Chief Justice Marshall’s term , the Supreme Court was considered a minor part of the government.  Marshall not only made the judicial branch co-equal to the two other branches , as it is today, but he also presided over a case that announced the Supreme Court’s  authority to overrule the executive branch, legislative branch, states, and lower courts, when necessary.

In the significant case of  Marbury v. Madison, decided in 1803, the Supreme Court said that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land and that conflicting laws cannot be enforced. The Marshall court clarified that federal law supersedes state law, and that the Supreme Court is the federal court of last resort.  Marshall wrote opinions about the meaning of  ‘commerce’ in the Constitution, the protection  of private institutions from state interference, and explained that the Bill of Rights applied to states as well as the federal government.  These cases remain some of the most important in the court’s history.

So, as we watch the fireworks around the country this year, take time to think about those who contributed to today’s independent nation.  Although the judicial branch is sometimes overlooked, 200 years ago John Marshall’s influence changed the government, and gave federal courts power to enforce constitutional law.  Marshall is a giant of the judiciary and one of the many who have allowed our nation to flourish  and  to celebrate Independence Day for years to come.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court and Federal Cases

From time to time I blog about opinions of the Supreme Court of Ohio that explain the law that applies within our state. But as you know, we have a dual system of law. The U.S. Supreme Court announces federal law that applies to the entire country. 

That court was busy this last week, finishing its current term that began in October. The Supreme Court released opinions on the Voting Rights Act, marital status for same-sex couples, and land use regulations, among others. And although some Americans may disagree with a controversial court ruling, everyone must understand that our Constitution gives the U.S. Supreme Court the final word governing legal matters across all 50 states.

Not every case can reach the supreme court level.  Some state cases may wend their way to the Ohio Supreme Court, but even fewer state cases are heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even so, federal law affects everyone, whether we have a pending case or not. Part of our duties as American citizens and as voters is to understand the operation of each branch of government.

To get a better handle on the judicial branch and recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, you may visit SCOTUSblog and click on the “plain English” posts on the decisions. There you will find a good summary of recent U.S. Supreme Court cases.