The Supreme Court, Constitutional Revolution in Retrospect

The Supreme Court, Constitutional Revolution in Retrospect

The Supreme Court, Constitutional Revolution in Retrospect

The Supreme Court, Constitutional Revolution in Retrospect

Excerpt

Ever since de Tocqueville, men have emphasized the primordial role of the judge in American society. For it has become almost a commonplace that the courts-and particularly the Supreme Court -- are the fulcrum upon which our institutions turn. And it follows from this that a real understanding of our system and how it operates is impossible without some knowledge of the manner in which the Supreme Court has exercised its constitutional role.

One for whom the United States Supreme Court Reports constitute his staple reading cannot help but note the extent to which he has been joined by others who have become concerned with the work of the highest tribunal. Contemporary interest in the Supreme Court appears, indeed, to be at an almost all-time high. Throughout the country, there, is the keenest desire to learn more about the institution which, all have come to see, plays such a vital part in our polity.

At the same time, it cannot be gainsaid that there has been, during the past generation, a profound change in the manner in which Americans have tended to regard their highest judicial institution. Until recently, the attitude of Americans toward the Supreme Court recalled with singular fidelity that with which, according to Burke, Englishmen of a century and a half ago should have looked upon the institutions of their country: "We ought to understand it according to our measure; and to venerate where we are not able to understand." Yet, if to our grandfathers and our fathers the functioning of the Supreme Court was a sacred mystery of American statesmanship, in our own day the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme. Veneration has, all too often, given way to vituperation, and the high tribunal has been the subject of more than its share of purely partisan censure and attack.

To be sure, no governmental institution in a democratic society should be above and beyond criticism. Criticism to be fruitful, however, should be based upon understanding. In the case of the Supreme Court, there has been all too little comprehension. Nor have there been many attempts by lawyers familiar with the Court . . .

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