Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Supreme Court of the United States (2)

Scene in the Court Room of the... Digital ID: 1101483. New York Public Library

The full significance of the Supreme Court as a factor in the new government was not at first appreciated by all; yet there were some who realized its great importance, like Washington, who, with prophetic visions of what the future was to disclose, wrote, in a letter inclosing the commission of James Wilson, one of the first associate justices: "Considering the judicial system as the chief pillar upon which our national government must rest, I have thought it my duty to nominate for the high offices in that department such men as I conceived would give dignity and luster to our national character.

"Early there arose two parties in this country, one believing that the new government was but a continuance of the old confederacy in effect a league of States, the States remaining the dominant powers, and the national Government serving only as a limited agency for the transaction of a few matters of general importance; the other that a new nation was created, supreme in control, possessing all the power of a nation, the States being simply parts of the one new nation. By the one party, the provisions of the Constitution were strictly construed; no power was vested in the national Government, except that which was expressly named. The other believed that the Constitution was to be so construed as to give vigor and efficiency to the new nation. Upon the solution of this question turned the future of the Republic. It was finally answered and settled by the Supreme Court, which has always spoken for the nationality of the United States. A brief reference to some of the leading cases may indicate its action, and the effect thereof on our history. In Chisholm, executor, v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419, decided February 18, 1793, the court (considering those provisions of the Constitution which extend the judicial power of the United States to controversies "between a State and citizens of another State," and give to the Supreme Court original jurisdiction of controversies to which a State is a party) held that an action might be maintained against a State by a citizen of another State. The national idea was not yet strong, and the proposition that a sovereign State could at the instance of an individual and without its consent be brought to the bar of a court and compelled to defend an action against it startled many. As a consequence the Eleventh Amendment was adopted, which in effect forbids an action in the Federal Courts against a State by an individual.

John Marshall became Chief Justice in January, 1801, and remained in office for thirty-four years. He is often aptly called 'the great Chief Justice.' During his long term many questions of vital interest were considered and determined by the court.

It was a great constructive period, and by those decisions which declared the relative powers of the nation and the State was disclosed the full significance of the Constitution as an instrument expressing the creating of a new nation and not a mere article of confederation between separate States. Not merely were these relative powers declared, but the peculiar work and value of the Supreme Court as the tribunal to determine the extent of such relative powers and to pass in judgment upon acts of State and nation were also made apparent.

In Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch, 137, decided February 24, 1803, it was held that an act of Congress repugnant to the Constitution was void. True, this was not the first case in which such a judicial opinion had been announced, but Chief Justice Marshall presented the argument so fully and forcibly that since then the question has been at rest, and it is now undoubted that a legislative act repugnant to the Constitution is a nullity. Again, in M'Culloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, the question was presented of the power of Congress to charter a national bank.

To be continued: Supreme Court (3)

Source of Information: From my Collection of Books: The New International Encyclopedia; 1902-1905 Dodd, Mead and Company-New York Total of 21 Volumes

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