U. S. Courts: Interpreting the Contract

Image on the left is of the back of a group of people. The symbol of an equals sign can be seen on the back of several shirts. Image on the right is of a flag. On the flag is the symbol of an equals sign.

The Marriage Equality Act vote in Albany, New York, 2011 (left), was just one of a number of cases testing the constitutionality of both national and state law. In the years leading up to the 2015 ruling that same-sex couples may marry in all fifty states, marriage equality had become a key issue for the LGBT community as demonstrated at Seattle’s 2012 Pride parade (right). (credit left: modification of work by “Celebration chapel”/Wikimedia; credit right: modification of work by Brett Curtiss)

The judiciary is arguably the branch where the individual has the best chance to be heard–competing contractual claims may be heard above the noise and distraction of the media, politics, and technology.

As part of checks and balances, courts protect the Constitution from breaches by the other branches of government, and they protect individual rights against societal and governmental oppression. At the national level, nine Supreme Court justices are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for lifetime appointments. Hence, populist control over them is indirect at best, but this provides courts the independence needed. Court power is confined to ruling on those cases the courts decide to hear–in interpreting the law rather than making the law, as law-making power resides with the legislative branch.

U.S. Courts: Questions to Consider

  1. How do courts make decisions?
  2. How do they exercise their power to protect individual rights?
  3. How are the courts structured?
  4. What distinguishes the Supreme Court from all others?

Terms to Remember

checks and balances–limitations placed on governmental power; separation into branches that oversee one another

judiciary–judicial authority, courts, judges, justices