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2. The Powers of the Supreme Court
About this Lecture
In this module, we think about why the judiciary – and the Supreme Court in particular – is the only branch of government in the United States with the power to declare something “unconstitutional”, focusing in particular: (i) the fact that the Supreme Court can overrule both Acts of Congress and Executive Orders from the President; (ii) the structure of the federal court system in the United States, and its relation to the various state court systems; (iii) the amount of work that the Supreme Court handles per year (or per ‘term’); (iv) the extent to which the powers of the Supreme Court derive from the Constitution; (v) the importance of the case Marbury v. Madison (1803), in which the Supreme Court for the first time declared an Act of Congress unconstitutional; and (vi) the relative rarity of such declarations in the early decades of the Republic (the next declaration came more than fifty years later in 1857) – and their relative frequency today.
In this course, Dr Matthew Williams (University of Oxford) explores the concept of ‘affirmative action’ in the United States through the question ‘Why have critics asserted that affirmative action should be declared unconstitutional?’ In the first module, we introduce the question itself, before looking in more detail at the history of race relations in the United States and the idea of “unconstitutionality”. After that, in the second module, we think about why the judiciary is the only branch of government in the United States with the power to declare something “unconstitutional”, and how the Supreme Court obtained these powers. In the following four modules, we outline four potential arguments that critics of affirmative action have used to question its constitutionality – first, on the grounds of basic principles of political philosophy such as liberty and natural justice; second, on the grounds that the Supreme Court does not have the jurisdiction to enforce affirmative action; third, on the grounds that federally-enforced affirmative action is no longer needed; and fourth, on the grounds that the ends of affirmative actions are unacceptably vague. Finally, in the seventh module, we provide a brief recap of the question that we were considering and the different arguments that we considered in trying to answer it, before moving on to suggest some avenues for further reading.
Dr Matthew Williams is Access and Career Development Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford. His research focuses on the the language of politics, especially how the language of legislation has changed over the previous century. His recent publications include How Language Works in Politics: The Impact of Vague Legislation on Policy (2018).
Cite this Lecture
Williams, M. (2020, December 30). US Politics – Affirmative Action - The Powers of the Supreme Court [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://www.massolit.io/courses/us-politics-affirmative-action/the-powers-of-the-supreme-court
Williams, M. "US Politics – Affirmative Action – The Powers of the Supreme Court." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 30 Dec 2020, https://www.massolit.io/courses/us-politics-affirmative-action/the-powers-of-the-supreme-court