History in Progress

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions inspire passions and further democracy.

by Sarah Pack

2637To commemorate my graduation from law school, my grandfather (who is also a lawyer) gave me a mug displaying the names of several landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Each morning as I fill it with delicious, hot (and much needed) coffee, the names of the losing parties disappear and I pause to think about the highest Court in the land and how it has guided and shaped our laws since the beginning of this democratic experiment. Unless you’ve been isolated from all outside communication, you know our Supreme Court recently issued rulings on four decisions that have the potential to significantly impact three major American social institutions—education, voting, and marriage. Each of these important issues is rife with intense ideological differences of opinion. Though the Court chose to send two of the four cases (the education case and one of the marriage cases) back to the lower appellate courts rather than decide their merits, its rulings on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act and the Defense of Marriage Act will have a far reaching impact on the lives of many Americans. You may strongly agree or strongly disagree with one or both of these decisions, as has been common throughout the Court’s often contentious history. The strength of our democracy, however, resides at least in part in our collective acceptance of the role of the Court in shaping our laws to uphold the rights and restrictions of the Constitution. Although these decisions are made by a group of nine politically-appointed individuals with formidable job security, they provide an essential check on the powers of the executive and of state and federal legislatures. Of course, the Court gets it undeniably wrong sometimes (Dred Scott comes to mind) and undeniably right others (I’d like to think that no one would disagree with the outcome of Loving v. Virginia), and it often divides along ideological grounds. However, the importance of its role as an independent arbiter of our laws and as a critical component of our sacred system of checks and balances cannot and must not be understated. On Independence Day, we celebrated the resilience of our forefathers and the system of government with which they imparted us, and today I am thankful for a democracy nearly 250 years old, a feat accomplished in no small part thanks to its independent judiciary.

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