The Supreme Court in Crisis: A History of Conflict

By Robert J. Steamer | Go to book overview

2. Congress & the Supreme Court During the Marshall Era

ALTHOUGH the dynamics of American politics demand perpetual and creative alterations in the constitutional system, the building of the original complex of arrangements with the blueprint provided by the framers of the Constitution, was probably the most precarious undertaking in America's history. It was the task of Congress to turn the blueprint for a government into an operating reality, and all at one time. Any structural weakness might have brought down the entire edifice or, at least, would have forced some rebuilding at a later time under new stresses and strains. The establishment of the Supreme Court was peculiarly significant since, paradoxically, the Constitution deemed it a coordinate and coequal with the Presidency and the Congress, and yet the Court was a creature of Congress in the sense that its detailed form and substance depended upon a statutory enactment. Had the framers spelled out in Article III the precise structure of a federal judicial system, prescribed the detailed nature of the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction, and explicitly authorized judicial review, much of the conflict which continues to this day might have been avoided. Instead, while Article III of the Constitution provides for a Supreme Court, it leaves these important questions open to legislative discretion. The stage was set for frequent legislative-judicial altercations which at times have almost reached an irreparable constitutional crisis.

It would be an error, however, to lay the blame for all controversy on either the doctrine of the separation of powers or on the framers themselves. The power conflict growing out of the rise of political parties in America was equally responsible. The glorious system which the Federalists had envisioned-a system

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