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Visiting the Supreme COurt


Visiting the US Supreme Court
On October 31, 2006, for the first time in my life, I visited the US Supreme Court, located at One First Street, NE, across First Street from the U. S. Capitol and across East Capitol Street from the Library of Congress. It was an exceptional experience to actually observe a process that I have been studying for more than tow years. First, I will begin with some history about the supreme court- its inception, the rise of the Supreme Court and Judicial review. This will be followed with few notes about what happened at the court and a background for the case discussed. Then, a discussion of the Judicial Activism will follow. Finally, I will finish with final thought about the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court represents the Judicial Branch in the US government. The Judiciary branch is mentioned in the Constitution in article III. The Supremacy Clause is the source of the Judicial Review. There are nine Supreme Court Justice, who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Justices serve for life tenure, in order to encourage them to be nonpartisan in their decisions. The current chief justices are as follows, Chief Justice John Roberts (Bush II, 2005), John Paul Stevens (Ford, 1975), Antonin Scalia (Reagan, 1986), Anthony Kennedy (Reagan, 1988), David Souter (Bush, 1990), Clarence Thomas (Bush, 1991), Ruth Bader Ginsberg (Clinton, 1993), Stephen Breyer (Clinton, 1994), Samuel Alito (BushII, 2006) (Bardes).
In the beginning, the Court favored States over the Federal Government. The Court ruled many decisions that favored the states rights over the Federal government and the Constitution, like the famous Dred Scott Case. Originally, judicial review was not intended by the founder, but it was implied by Hamilton when he described it as the least dangerous branch. Judicial Review is defined as the ability of the Supreme Court to determine that an act of the Congress or the Executive branch is constitutional or not. The First assertion of the Judicial Review was in the Marbury vs. Madison case, by which the Court refused a Congressional order that would give the court more power. The expansion of the Supreme Court, however; did not really take place except after the Second World War. The Court struck approximately one hundred and sixty Congress acts, which stirred many questions and accusation of judicial activism (Bardes).
I went to the Court with so many expectations about the process. I arrived there by 10:15 am, which was too late to late for the for the 10 O’clock session. By the time I got inside after all the security procedures, it was almost 11:15. The Court was hearing the oral argument for the Gary Lawrence v. Florida. Case. On July 28, 1994, Lawrence hit Michael Finken to death with a pipe and baseball bat before setting his body ablaze in Santa Rosa County, Florida. Lawrence was seeking revenge on the sleeping man for having an affair with his estranged wife. Lawrence’s two young daughters witnessed the gruesome murder. A jury convicted Lawrence of first-degree murder in March 1995 and recommended the death penalty. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed the sentence in August 1997. After unsuccessfully appealing his sentence twice, on March 11, 2003, Lawrence sought habeas relief in federal court, but lawyers for the state argued that his claim should be dismissed because he had already exceeded the time limit on both his original and amended petition based on the AEDPA provision (Medill).
Congress established the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996 after the Oklahoma City bombings, in part to fund anti-terrorism efforts but also with an eye on victims’ rights in limiting the appeals process open to death-row inmates. The Act significantly hampers death row inmates’ ability to apply for habeas relief, a written petition stating the prisoner has been wrongly imprisoned. The AEDPA bars federal courts from considering any petition for habeas corpus unless the state court has “unreasonably” interpreted some portion of the constitution in finding the prisoner guilty. The Act seeks to ensure “justice for victims and an effective death penalty,” according to the text of the bill. It carries a one-year statute of limitations on habeas appeals in federal court (Medill).
During the Hearing, Justices Breyer, Stevens kept interrupting the Respondent, Christopher M. Kise, Tallahassee, FL. They would ask him a question, and before he answers they re-ask another question. I really felt sorry for the attorney. Justice Scalia’s comments were few, but harsh. He made fun of the attorney many times. Justice Thomas was almost sleeping during the session. When he was not sleeping, he engaged in side-talks with Justice Breyer.
By 11:55 am, the Court was adjourned. Outside the Court, there was a group of almost twenty young women. They had a blue duck-tape on their mouths. By approaching their official speaker, another young lady named Rachel Thomas, she said:
This is a demonstration for the rights of the women to have abortion. We belong to the Pro-choice groups. We believe that Freedom of abortion is like freedom of speech. If you take the abortion freedom away from us, then you might as well take away our freedom of speech.
The way the oral arguments took place inside the court was completely unexpected. I never thought that the Justices do not really listen to the attorneys. This made me wonder, what good are the oral argument for, if all the justices are not listening to the speaker, they are either interrupting him/her or not even listening. The Only answer I could think of is that the Justices already have an opinion about the case during the hearing. They are trying to prove such points to each other through their comments. This endangers a very important principle the Court should always upheld. The Justice should not let his/her personal or political believes to control or even affect his/her judgments. That is the reason why the Justices are appointed for life tenure.
The Counter argument is that politicizing the Court has actually helped to make many useful historic decisions, like Brown v. the Board of education case, where the Court abolished the concept of Separate but Equal that was established to implement the segregation policy of the late 19th and early 20th century. Judicial activism therefore is a weapon that can be used both ways.
In his article, “The Myth of Conservative Supreme Court: the October 200 term” tries Lino Graglia to change the image of conservatism of the Supreme Court. He is trying to say that the Rehnquist Supreme Court had not been by any mean conservative, but rather liberal. Moreover, he believes that the Supreme Court is too active in our society that it even controls the way we think. He argues that throughout the American history, the Supreme Court has been pushing the American society to the left.
“The Court overturned the policy choice made in the ordinary political process, usually at the state level, only to impose on the nation a choice farther to the left-liberal side of the American political spectrum. The Court has fundamentally changed the nature of our society, remaking it in its own image, the image of liberal academia and particularly legal academia” (Graglia).
The relation here is much more complex than what he writer is trying to explain. First any change made by the Supreme Court is very calculated. The society has to be ready for it in the first place. Moreover, the society in many times actually needs it. So it is not by any means an enforcement of a specific idea over the society. Most of the decisions of the Supreme Court have had popularity- No matter how big or small-in the society. In many cases, the Supreme Court’s decisions were more reactionary than initiative. It is also the fact that the Supreme Court can not change a bill or an act unless it is challenged in front of the Court. Saying that does not mean that Supreme Court did not participate in developing the culture of the American society. Cases like Brown V. the Board of Education stand clear in the American history, where the Supreme Court’s decision was very unpopular to many states and citizens.
Going to the Supreme Court was a very important experience for me. There is a big difference between reading about the judicial process, and being actually there as a part-no matter how small- of the actual process. The visit to the Supreme Court literally changed the way I looked at the Chief Justices. I was really disappointed with what I have seen. Or maybe I was expecting a lot. Seeing them at the Court in flesh and blood made question, what happens if they make a mistake? They are humans after all! Yes the Judiciary is the least dangerous branch, but they are appointed for life tenures. Also, the political views do affect how the Justices decide about a specific case. Most of the Judges already have an opinion or even a decision regarding the case. They are only trying to persuade the rest of the Justices with their opinion through the delegation that is why they do not even listen to the arguments presented in the oral hearing. Was it a mistake to elevate such powers to the Supreme Court? Before going to the Court, I would say no. Now, I do not know.

Work Cited
Barbara Bardes, Mack C. Shelley and Steffen W. Schmidt, American Government and Politics Today: The Essentials (2006-2007 Edition).
Graglia, Lino A, the Myth of a Conservative Supreme Court: The October 2000 Term, Harvard Law Journals
Medill Docket, Northwestern University, Posted March 28, 2006 08:48 PM http://docket.medill.northwestern.edu/archives/003511.php


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