Congress or the Supreme Court: Which Shall Rule America?

By Egbert Ray Nichols | Go to book overview
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About one hundred and fifty years ago when governments were in the process of formation in the United States, it was decided that the public powers should find the source and sanction of their authority in written charters. There was a fear that governments would become over-assertive, arbitrary, and controlled by popular whims. To prevent the overbearing insolence of public officers and to check the dangers of an excessive democracy, the duties which governments were to perform were to be defined accurately; the limits on their powers were to be determined clearly; and the functions of government were to be divided among separate departments. It was one of the primary objects of the political leaders of the time to inaugurate a system with the legislative, executive, and judicial powers in separate hands to the end, as the makers of the Massachusetts' Constitution declared, that there may be "a Government of Laws and not of Men."1

Excerpt from "A Government of Laws or a Government of Men: judicial or Legislative Supremacy," Charles Grove Haines. Used with the special permission of the author.
The idea of a government of laws and not of men is of ancient origin. James Harrington, Professing to follow Aristotle and Livy, defined government as "the empire of laws and not of men," in the Oceana, Works (ed. 1737) 37. Cf. Aristotle, Politics III, xvl. 4, 5. John Marshall in rendering the decision in the case of Marbury v. Madison said: "The government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men."-- 1 Cranch 137, 163 ( 1803). "Our whole system


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Congress or the Supreme Court: Which Shall Rule America?
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