Great Judges and Famous Cases

Manila Bulletin, December 5, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Great Judges and Famous Cases


(Editor's note: Great judges wrote opinions that govern the modern day's urgent needs even if written in 1803, 1810, or 1954, as noted by the author.)

MANILA, Philippines - According to Claro M. Recto, the 1935 Constitution was a virtual carbon copy of the US Constitution of 1787. Delegates to the 1934 Con-Con were aware that a document that did not comply with the Independence Act (Tydings-McDuffie Law of 1934) may not meet the approval of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Colonial policies

The drafters of the Charter were to meet these conditions: 1) it must be republican in form, 2) should include a Bill of Rights, 3) must be approved by the US President, and 4) any amendment also required Roosevelt's approval.

Long before this document was drafted, courts were governed by two organic acts (or constitutions) - the Philippine Bill of 1902 and the Jones Law of 1916, with most provisions lifted from the US Constitution.

Controlling cases

Cases decided by the US Supreme Court partly/fully influenced our Supreme Court which was composed mostly of American judges between June 11, 1901 and November 15, 1935.

American and Filipino judges freely quoted and adopted opinions of famous justices of the US Supreme Court, especially the relevant doctrines on the Bill of Rights.

Book on great judges

A distinguished American professor of law, Bernard Schwartz, has written a slim opus titled "A Book of Legal Lists." This is about the best and worst in American law. The book includes a list of the greatest and worst Supreme Court justices, and greatest and worst Supreme Court decisions.

Judicial review

In Murbury v. Madison (1803), the Court struck down a law as repugnant to the Constitution for the first time and set a precedent for judicial review of acts of Congress.

Contracts clause

In Fletcher v. Peck (1810), Marshall wrote: "The opposition between the Constitution and the law should be such that the judge feels a clear and strong conviction of their incompatibility with each other." This case followed the Constitution's obligation of contracts clause and was the first time the Court invalidated a state law.

Four of the 10 greatest judges

Of the 10 greatest justices on his list, the first four, for our purpose, are John Marshall (chief justice, 1801-1835), Oliver Wendell Holmes (associate justice, 1902-1932), Earl Warren (chief justice, 1953-1969), and Joseph Story (associate justice, 1811-1845).

First expounder of the Constitution

About John Marshall, Prof. Schwartz quotes one associate justice: "If American law were to be represented by a single figure, skeptics and worshippers alike would agree that the figure could be one alone, and that one, John Marshall." He was the expounder of constitutional law, its author, and its creator. James A. Garfield said: "Marshall found the Constitution paper and he made it power. He found a skeleton and he clothed it with flesh and blood."

Holmes' handiwork

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1902-1932) was the most influential justice ever to sit on the Supreme Court.

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