On October 13, 1932, in laying the Supreme Court Building's cornerstone, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes said: "The Republic endures and this is the symbol of its faith." The words "Equal Justice Under Law" adorn its west facade. Facing east is the motto "Justice, the Guardian of Liberty." Since the Court's 1789 establishment, these words belie its decisions, arguments, and "supreme" allegiance to power, not "We the people."
Since its founding, privilege always counted most in America. The prevailing fiction then and now is that constitutional checks and balances restrain government, the founders having created an egalitarian country free from wealth and poverty extremes common most elsewhere.
Like today, wealthy 18th century colonialists had vastly disproportional land holdings; controlled banking, commerce and industry; assured its own ran the government and courts; and the supreme law of the land, then and now, deters no president, sitting government, or Supreme Court from doing what they wish.
From inception, America was always ruled by men, not laws, who lie, connive, misinterpret and pretty much do what they want for their own self-interest and powerful constituents. In 1787, "the people" who mattered most were elitists. The American revolution substituted new management for old. Everything changed but stayed the same under a system establishing:
The Constitution's "We the People" opening words are meaningless window dressing. So is Article I, Section 8 stating:
"The Congress shall have power to....provide for (the) general welfare of the United States" - the so-called welfare clause applicable also to the Executive and High Court.
The record shows otherwise - decades of permanent wars, repressive laws, rampant crime, unsafe streets, injustice, political corruption, dishonest police, racketeering labor officials, corporate fraud, raging unaddressed social problems, rare efforts to change things, and since the 1970s, virtually none.
The notion of "government of the people, by the people and for the people" is bogus on its face. People don't govern directly or through representatives. They are governed by the rich and well-born, movers and shakers, wheeler dealers, power brokers, a Wall Street crowd looking after themselves at the expense of most others. It's how America always worked, including the High Court, established under the Constitution's Article III stating:
"The judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish."
Congress is explicitly empowered to regulate the Court, but, in fact, the Court often controls Congress, freely using what's called "judicial review," even though it's unmentioned in the Constitution and the founders didn't authorize it.
The concept derives from Article VI, Section 2 saying the Constitution, laws, and treaties are the "supreme Law of the Land" and judges are bound by them. Also from Article III, Section 1 saying judicial power applies to all cases, implying judicial review is allowed. Under this interpretation, appointed judges literally have power to annul acts of Congress and presidential decisions - though nothing in the Constitution explicitly allows this.
The famous 1803 Marbury v. Madison decision was defining. As articulated by Chief Justice John Marshall, it established the principle of judicial supremacy, meaning the Court is the final arbiter of what is or is not the law. He set a precedent by voiding an act of Congress and the President, and put a brake on congressional and presidential powers - except that Executives are only constrained to the degree they wish, able to take full advantage of Article II, Section 1 stating:
"The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America," and Article II, Section 3 stating:
"The President shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed," omitting that they lawlessly make them through Executive Orders, Presidential Directives, and other means, including George Bush claiming "Unitary Executive" powers, what Chalmers Johnson called a "ball-faced assertion of presidential supremacy dressed up in legal mumbo jumbo."
However, no constitutional wording explicitly permits this. Yet Congress and the High Court rarely override the Executive, so effectively he's empowered with vast, frightening authority, including as commander-in-chief of the military, an autonomous capacity in peace but dictatorial during war.
With some ingenuity, Executives have sovereign power. Congress is mostly a paper tiger, and the High Court usually upholds presidential authority. But if it wishes, it can make laws it wants by judicial rulings.
Notable Court Decisions
"No State shall (make any) Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts...;"
"there is substantial support in the record that the government deliberately omitted relevant information (including military justification) in provided misleading information in papers before the court" that was critical to the Supreme Court's decision.
In its January ruling, the Court set a precedent, but does it matter given the political power of big money, past failures to curb it, and Professor John Kozy saying:
"Expecting the Congress, most if not all of whose members reside deep in corporate pockets, to eliminate that influence can be likened to expected the rhinovirus to eliminate the common cold. Corporate money (in large or smaller amounts) is the diseased life-blood of American politics; it carries its cancerous spores to all extremities."
As for the Court, Kozy cited Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' Lochner dissent, saying "the Court has taken its task to be the constitutionalization of a totally immoral, rapacious, economic system instead of the promotion of justice, domestic tranquility, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty."
However, as HL Mencken observed, Holmes was no "advocate of the rights of man (but rather) an advocate of the rights of lawmakers. (Under his judicial philosophy), there would be scarcely any brake at all upon lawmaking, and the Bill of Rights would have no more significance than the Code of Manu (referring to discrimination against women in Hindu literature)."
Of course, the same observation applies throughout Court history with past civil libertarians far outnumbered by supporters of the established order and big money that runs it. For every William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall there have been dozens of John Jays (the first chief justice), Roger Taneys, William Howard Tafts, Scalias, Burgers, Rehnquists, and Roberts.
Even liberal Republican Earl Warren, as California Attorney General, supported interning Japanese Americans during WW II, despite later writing the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision as Chief Justice as well as supporting other progressive rulings. Under Lyndon Johnson, however, he also chaired the Warren Commission cover-up of Jack Kennedy's assassination, saying:
"....there may be some things that would involve security. This would be preserved but not made public," even though the public has a right to know as a democratic state's final arbiter.
The Commission took testimony in secret, later publishing sanitized versions two months after the Warren Report. It prompted critics like Sylvia Meagher in her landmark book titled, "Accessories After the Fact" to rebut the Commission's findings, largely based on evidence it published. It excluded everything deemed sensitive and called Lee Harvey Oswald the lone assassin, a conclusion very much in dispute with growing evidence to prove it.
Michael Parenti calls the Supreme Court an "autocratic branch" of government. Its members are appointed, serve for life, and have great power for good or ill, nearly always supporting institutions of power, including corporate America. Even during the 1930s, "the Supreme Court was the activist bastion of laissez-faire capitalism" until public and White House pressure got it to accept New Deal legislation.
Post-1960s courts, however, reverted to form:
As for unfettered political spending, Ralph Nader's comments were unsurprising, saying "The Supremes Bow(ed) to King Corporation," further weakening a fragile democracy and deeply corrupted electoral process. With Washington already corporate occupied territory, it's debatable what more they need do. But they:
"can now directly pour (unlimited) amounts of corporate money, through independent expenditures, into the electoral swamp already flooded with corporate campaign PAC contribution dollars. Without (shareholder) approval, (they) can reward or intimidate people running for office at the local, state, and national levels."
The Court saying "Government may not suppress political speech based on the speaker's corporate identity" means influence depends on the ability to buy it. The public is more than ever left out. The electoral process is further corrupted, and the notion of free, fair, and open elections is fanciful, absurd, and the reason many voters opt out.
Nader supports a grassroots effort for a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood and get big money out of politics. Also vital are:
Most important is:
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