The Supreme Court of the United States: A Student Companion

By John J. Patrick | Go to book overview

PREFACE
TO THE FIRST EDITION

Liberty, a desired end of consti- tutional government in the United States, is dependent upon law and justice. This truth is captured by two phrases carved on the marble exterior of the Supreme Court Building: over the east portico, "Justice the Guardian of Liberty," and over the west portico, "Equal Justice Under Law."

According to its framers, the U.S. Constitution was designed to "secure the Blessings of Liberty." The framers knew, however, that this lofty ideal could not be attained without workable instruments of government crafted for this end. The Supreme Court was intended to be a major means of secur- ing the people's liberty.

The Supreme Court has the special duty of guarding the individual's rights to liberty through judicial review, its power to void government actions that violate the supreme law of the Constitution.

James Madison, the major architect of the Constitution, presciently observed that "independent tribunals of justice "headed by the Supreme Court" will consider themselves in a peculiar manner the guardians of those "constitutional" rights; they will be an impenetrable bul- wark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive; they will be naturally led to resist every encroachment upon rights expressly stipulated for in the Constitution."

During the 1830s, a perceptive French visitor to the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville, confirmed the enduring vision of the Constitution's framers about the critical importance of the Supreme Court to the vitality and destiny of their work. "Without "justices of the Supreme Court", the Constitution would be a dead letter," wrote Tocque- ville in his classic 1835 commentary about the United States, Democracy in America. "Their power is enormous,"

Tocqueville wrote, "but it is the power of public opinion. "The justices" are all- powerful as long as the people respect the law; but they would be impotent against popular neglect or contempt of the law."

The Court has no power to guard the rights of the people through its rulings about the law unless particular people assume responsibility for bring- ing cases to the judiciary. Further, the Court's rulings, no matter how wise or just, may practically amount to nothing unless the people are vigilant about their enforcement.

The Supreme Court cannot serve the cause of the people's liberty without popular support. And to be effective, this support depends upon widespread public knowledge of the Court's work and a public commitment, based on reason, to the constitutional values for which it works.

The entries in this volume were written to further the spread of knowl- edge and understanding about law and its relationship to liberty. The articles introduce the reader to the origins and development of the Supreme Court. They discuss controversies and failures along with the achievements of the jus- tices during different periods of U.S. history. The entries in this book will answer many of your questions about the Court. They are also likely to raise new questions, which can be investigated through use of the many suggestions for further reading.

As I worked on this book two young people, very dear to me, were constantly in my thoughts. And so I dedicate this work to them: my grand- daughter, Rachel Patrick, and my niece, Laurel Ellet. I hope that this book will contribute to the education of their generation, the responsible citizens of the future.

-8-

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The Supreme Court of the United States: A Student Companion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Preface to the Second Edition 7
  • Preface to the First Edition 8
  • How to Use This Book 9
  • The Supreme Court of the United States - A Student Companion 11
  • Appendix 1 - Terms of the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court 379
  • Appendix 2 - Visiting the Supreme Court Building 383
  • Appendix 3 - Web Sites 384
  • Further Reading 386
  • Index 390
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