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Supreme Court Impact

The Supreme court of the United States has been called by many the most influential branch of the United States government. Justices sit in seats of power without fear of public backlash through elections. While sitting in these seats of power, they make decisions that have long lasting and far reaching results. The decisions made by the Court impact the social and political aspects of the lives of every person living in the United States. With that said, the Court obviously influences certain areas of policy more than other.

Three areas of policy the Supreme Court has influenced more than others are the area of LGBQT rights, immigration, and interstate commerce. Let us first examine the area where the Court has had the greatest amount of historical impact, interstate commerce. Article One, Section Eight, Clause Three of the United States Constitution is commonly known as the “Commerce Clause,” and states, “The United States Congress shall have the authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and among the Indian tribes.

The JurisPrudence on this issue can be divided into three distinct phases. The first phase began at the founding of the United states and ended in the late nineteenth century, the second ran from the end of the nineteenth century to the New Deal, and the third began post New Deal. c During the first phase of jurisprudence on the issue, the Court used its broadest interpretation of the commerce clause. In the case of Gibbons v. Ogden 1824 the Court ruled that activity that was purely intrastate could be regulated under the commerce clause, if it was part of a larger interstate commerce activity.

The Court continued to expand the use of the commerce clause when it ruled the Sherman Antitrust Act could be used to stop price fixing at a local Chicago meat market. The broad interpretation of the commerce clause peaked in the case of Swift and Company v. United States. In this case the Court ruled purely local economic activities could become part of the chain of inter state commerce, and thus could be regulated under the commerce clause. Changes in the composition of the Court ushered in the second era of commerce clause jurisprudence.

During this time the court took a hands off approach to the commerce clause. This led to rulings that were completely opposite that of the rulings discussed above. One of the best examples of this is the case of Kid v. Pearson. Here the Court reversed its ruling in Swift and Company v. United States. The Court held that the intrastate manufacturing of liquor could not be regulated under the commerce clause. The Court made many similar rulings during this time. The final era of commerce clause jurisprudence came with the President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

During this time the Court moved back toward its broad interpretation of the commerce clause, but not as sharply as in the first era discussed. This led to some rather odd rulings by the Court. The era began with rulings that did not signify change. For example, in the case of Hammer v. Dagenherat, the Court ruled the commerce clause could not be used to regulate child labor laws. In the case of Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, The Court ruled that the commerce clause did not allow for federal statute to regulate a company that bought and sold chicken only in the State of New York.

Finally, in the case of Carter v. Carter Coal Company, the Court ruled that mining was a local activity that could not be regulated under the commerce clause. It was not until the Court packing plan that rulings began to change. The court packing plan was a shecm by President Roosevelt to bring the number of justices on the Court from nine to thirteen. The goal was to get more favorable rulings for the social reforms he was proposing. The plan was blocked, but the nine justices on the Court fell into line.

The Court aligned more often with the President’s views in all areas, including the commerce clause. In the case of NLRB v. Jones, the Court ruled that activity could be regulated under the commerce clause if it had a substantial effect on commerce. The Court went further in its ruling in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States. The Court ruled the commerce clause could be used to regulate discriminatory practices at hotels, because guest use interstate highways to travel to the hotel.

The three eras of commerce clause jurisprudence reveal a great deal about the Supreme Court. The first era shows us that the court can be slow to change, and this is by design. The Supreme Court was made to be insulated from both political pressure and public opinion. This insulation allows the Court to independently judge laws on their constitutional merits, as well as hold congress and the executive branch accountable. This is a vital part of the checks and balances built into our government.

The second era show us the consequence of this slow change. When the Court does change, it can change drastically. This leads to conflicting case law that must be dealt with. The third era shows us the system is not perfect. Despite a design that is supposed to eliminate political pressure, President Roosevelt provided a great deal of it with his court packing plan. The Court also has a great deal of political influence as well. The greatest area of political influence is in the area of immigration.

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