There has been ongoing debate about how political the Supreme Court (SC) is. The Supreme Court can be defined as the highest court in the USA which has nine unelected judges who have been approved by the senate and nominated by the president – The sole reason why it is seen to be political? Currently Obama has made two successful appointments of Sonya Sotomayor in 2006 and Elena Kagan in 2010 and hoping to make his third nomination Sri Srinivasan in the coming months. The supreme court can be considered to have turned into a political institution rather than a judicial one because of its activism in high profile political cases which have divided views between the two major parties of America. There are some specific areas which can be analysed in order to establish an evaluation of the power of the Supreme Court. These include the constitutional role of the SC, the appointments process and how politiced it can be, judicial review and its importance, checks and balances and also the impact of pressure groups and parties.
The Founding Fathers wanted the SC to be the highest of all the courts in the judicial system of America. They therefore assigned the court to have the role of ‘guarding’ and ‘interpreting’ the constitution. Since then the court has been said to have three main jobs as written in the constitution: Supreme Court judges are to interpret federal laws, interpret the constitution and allow majority or minority rulings. The Supreme Court was set up by Article 9 and was regarded to be the most powerful body in the United States of America. One of the main examples to illustrate how powerful and politicised the SC is through the case of George W. Bush v Al Gore (2000). Through this the court had declared that recount votes which take place on the 12TH December will be unconstitutional and therefore because of this many people believe that the court handed the case to George Bush. The power of judicial review wasn’t really stated in the constitution but rather taken upon by the SC itself. This was said to be in the case of Madison v Marbury in 1803 when the court declared an act by congress unconstitutional and therefore was decided to be a violation of the constitution, thus establishing the SCs right of judicial review. The SC has also been described to be an evolved body. This means that over the years the SC and its justices have taken into account the changing society around them. A clear illustration of this would be when the court decided what the phrase ‘cruel and unusual punishments’ meant in the eighth Amendment and also decided that ‘freedom of speech’ applied not only in written form and speech but also in the internet. Moreover, critics argue that the power of judicial review gives the courts a ‘quasi-legislative’ position in the politics of America because decisions that are handed down by the court can initially be turned into a law being passed by congress for example in 1973 the case of Roe v Wade led to congress passing abortion rights and because of this position the SC has been described to be the third house of the legislative , which can be seen to unbalance the system of checks and balances showing that the SC has more power than the other branches of the government.
One of the main reasons as to why the SC is said to be a political institution is because of the nomination/ appointments process. First of all a presidential candidate will make filling vacancies on the SC an issue in their election campaigns. This is true in the cases of George Bush in 2000 and Barack Obama 2008. By doing this the presidential candidates will give an insight as to whom they may want to nominate as their SC judge which will attract both media and public attention which causes some checks done by the media which in itself is a political achievement. Also presidents may try and choose justices who will reflect their own political and judicial