Explaining Supreme Court Decisions

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As the nation’s highest court, the Supreme Court makes decisions that affects the lives of everyday people and has major legal implications. The court addresses issues from abortion to free speech. It has the power to strike down laws passed by Congress or actions by the president it interprets to be unconstitutional.

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In theory, the Supreme Court and its members are independent from the rest of the federal government and above politics since they are appointed to the court rather than elected. Several factors influence the decisions that members of the Supreme Court, these factors are precedent, public opinion, interest groups, and the Justices’ personal political ideologies. I believe that in terms of Madisonian democracy, the Supreme Court is an important and effective institution, despite the paradox it sometimes has in our democracy.

When making decisions, the Supreme Court often takes the legal idea of stare decisis into consideration. Stare decisis refers to the Latin phrase ”let it stand”. This refers to precedent. Precedent in a legal system is meant to help guide judges in future decisions they make should the issue or a case related to that issue come up before the court, or lower courts again. When a decision is handed down, Justices can refer to stare decisis as a reason for their decision. When Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) came before the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor in her majority decision reaffirmed the constitutional right to an abortion set in Roe v. Wade (1973). Roe set the precedent that the right to an abortion was guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Despite the Court’s ruling reaffirming the right to an abortion, this precedent has been put aside before.

The Supreme Court upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003 in the case of Gonzales v. Carhart (2007). In that case, then Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that that banning partial-birth abortion was not an ”undue burden” on women who were seeking an abortion, and that Congress indeed had the power to ban partial-birth abortions. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg claimed that the Court was ignoring precedent by placing a restriction on abortion, and not allowing a woman to make a decision for herself. In other cases, precedent in the Supreme Court has been outright ignored. The Supreme Court overturned previously established precedent made in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) in its decision of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which regarded the idea of ”separate but equal” expressed in Plessy as unconstitutional. Precedent was once again ignored in the case of Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which overturned the case of Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which had upheld the constitutionality of anti-sodomy laws in the United States. The Supreme Court has taken the idea of precedent into its legal decisions,

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