Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Popular Soverignty, the Executive, Congress, and SCOTUS: Battle for Supremacy (Part V)

Mootness involves cases where the injury goes away over time. For example, in DeFunis v. Odegaard (1974) the Court reviewed a case involving reverse discrimination of a White student rejected from law school because of diversity policies. However, by the time the case got the Supreme Court, the student was admitted to the law school and was only a year from graduation. Therefore, the Court held the case was moot since no injury remained. In Roe v. Wade (1973) the Supreme Court decided the case even though Roe’s baby was aborted and the injury was moot. Similarly, in Firefighters v. Stotts (1984) the Court decided this case even though there was no injury. In Stotts, those firefighters who lost their jobs due to affirmative action were rehired and hence the case should have been moot. Also, in North Carolina v. Rice (1971) the Court correctly decided a moot case to expunge the criminal record of Rice. In more recent times, the Court has settled a few environmental cases over the issue of mootness. In Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (2000) the Court held an environmentalist group could sue a company for polluting the Tyger River since they can no longer use the river for recreational purposes. The defendant claimed the case was moot because they already closed the polluting plant. The Court disagreed because the defendant still owned the plant and could reopen it at any time. In Summers v. Earth Island Institute (2009) the Court held an environmentalist group had no standing against the Forest Service because the dispute was settled prior to reaching the High Court making the case moot. In these environmental cases, once again, the Court protects the federal government, but refuses to do the same for a corporation or individual.

Ripeness is the opposite of mootness. A case can be brought to the Supreme Court too soon, prior to any injury. Poe v. Ullman (1961) is probably the most famous ripeness case. Since Connecticut did not enforce a state statute that made it illegal for married couples to use contraception, it was not ripe. That changed in the Landmark case Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965. The 1947 case United Public Workers v. Mitchell involved public workers questioning the constitutionality of the Hatch Act (denied public workers from working on political campaigns). The Court held that since no injury occurred, the case was not ripe. Similarly, in Doe v. Bush (2003) the Court held a citizen had no standing to challenge to the Iraq War because a “clear” Constitutional issue was not apparent and therefore, the case lacked ripeness.

The political questions doctrine was released in Baker v. Carr (1962). Baker v. Carr was a political questions case because it dealt with state districting guidelines for elections. However, the Court incorrectly ruled on the case saying that state house and senate seats have to be divided equally and proportionally based on population. The Court held that the Constitution says the Federal Government must assure each state has a Republican form of government. However, Republican and Democratic forms of government are not the same thing. The Court ruling in Baker v Carr implemented a Democratic form of government, not a Republican one (Luther v. Borden in 1849 said establishing Republican forms of government among the states was a political question). Elections and disputes between the Executive and Congress are generally seen as political questions beyond the powers of the Court. For example, the Court has held impeachment (Nixon v. United States, 1993), presidential termination of treaties (Goldwater v. Carter, 1979), amending the Constitution (Coleman v. Miller, 1939), and apportionment of state districts (Colegrove v. Green, 1946 overruled by Baker v. Carr, 1962) were political questions. On the other hand, the legislative veto (INS v. Chadha, 1983) and the exclusion of members from Congress (Powell v. McCormick, 1969) were not political questions. Of course, the most famous political questions case was Bush v. Gore (2000). In this case, the Court incorrectly decided that the Florida recount violated the equal protection clause for using different counting methods amongst the Florida counties. However, the Court correctly held that the Florida Supreme Court introduced violated the Florida constitution by creating new election law and only the Florida legislation could introduce and implement election law. Court jurisprudence doctrines of ripeness, mootness, standing, and political questions check Supreme Court power. However, the Court does not decide these types of cases in a consistent manner and generally decide them in favor of the government over the rights of individual citizens.

In most cases regarding overturned statutes and laws, the Court would eventually overrule itself to keep up with the changing times. The Court has essentially overruled prior decisions over a hundred times in the Court’s history. In most of these cases, the Court caved to political pressure from Congress and the voting public since the corrected decisions were worse than the original ruling. Here are some of the critical overturned cases by the Court: The Legal Tender Cases following the Civil War allowed the government to print paper money despite the fact the government defaulted on the payment to individual citizens. The right of employer and employee contracts over wages and hours in Lochner v. New York (1905) was overruled in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937). This allowed the Federal government to control wages and hours of most American citizens. Child labor laws were left to the States in Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918) until it was overruled in United States v. Darby (1941). The Court, Congress, and history books never consider cases where children want to work and adults need longer hours to support their families. Instead, the new precedent denies these fundamental rights to people who are willing to do the work. To make matters worse, many wage, hour, and child labor laws were discriminatory because they only targeted certain businesses and genders. Some overruled cases, on the other hand, are good decisions to protect human rights. In Minersville School District v. Gobtitis (1940) the Court held that mandatory flag salutes in schools was constitutional even if it violated someone’s religious believes. This ruling was correctly overturned just three years later in West Virginia v. Barnette (1943). In Pennsylvania v. Nelson (1956) the Court held a Pennsylvania sedition law was unconstitutional because it conflicted with the Smith Act (Congress sedition law). While Congress was debating legislation to overturn the decision to allow both state and federal sedition laws to coexist the Court overruled itself in Uphaus v. Weiman (1959). In Olmstead v. United States (1928) the Court held that wiretaps outside the premises of the accused was Constitutional since there was not any search and seizure. Chief Justice Taft handed down the opinion and opened the door for Congress to act to correct this loophole. Congress debated the issue for nearly 40 years and could never reach a compromise over the legalities of wiretapping. In Klatz v. United States (1967) the Court acted and overruled Olmstead v. United States. Another example was the overruling of Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) by Lawrence v. Texas (2003), but the Courts methodology in doing so was highly flawed and created bad law.

The bottom line is that decisions and majority opinions handed down by the Court are never final supreme laws of the land otherwise the Court would have no power to overrule precedent. The Court has no say over certain cases because of standing, mootness, ripeness, and political questions. Congress may also fail to comply with decisions by the Court or Congress may act to overturn Court rulings with new laws and statutes. The National Bank issue showed that the interpretation of the Constitution is a task completed by all three branches of government and not just the Court. All branches of government take an oath to protect and serve the Constitution and the Constitution itself says Congress shall pass no laws which violate the Constitution nor should they pass any ex post facto laws or bill of attainers. The only way for Congress and the Executive to accomplish this task is to understand and interpret the Constitution (It is not just the task of the Supreme Court and the judicial system). Sometimes Congress and the Court work well together to protect the rights of individuals. For example, in Katzenbach v. Morgan (1966) the Court upheld a federal statute as a proper interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect the voting rights of Puerto Ricans in New York.

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