#5: Limits on Supreme Court Power

Blog Post #5

So far this semester, we’ve been talking quite a bit about how the Supreme Court makes its decisions. One of the main tenets of the attitudinal model is that Supreme Court justices are essentially unconstrained. This means that they can pretty much decide cases how they want to, and then sort of rationalize that decision in the language of legal reasoning. But the Case or Controversy Clause has been invoked as a real limitation on the Supreme Court’s power. For a summary of the constitutional limitations on judicial power, see the very helpful “Exploring Constitutional Conflicts” page.

As your textbook explains, these limitations have been envoked on a number of occasions by the Supreme Court as an explanation of why it declined to hear a particular case on the merits. This, of couse, seems a lot like a limitation on the Supreme Court’s power. In other words, they are essentially saying that they don’t have the power to decide a case because of the constitutional limitations placed upon them by the Case or Controversy Clause.

A recent example of this is the Court’s decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013). The Court held that the Case or Controversy Clause prohibited the Court from deciding the case because the propoents of the same sex marriage ban did not have standing to sue. Read this New York Times summary of the case called “Between the Lines of the Proposition 8 Opinion.” As you can see, there is disagreement amongst the Justices about whether the CAse or Controversy Clause really exerted a limit on the power of the Court in this situation. In this context, then, it is important for us to consider carefully whether the Case or Controversy Clause puts real limits on the ability of the Court to exercise policy making power.

Paper Topic 5: Does the Case or Controversy Clause put real limits on the Supreme Court’s power? What does this say about the possibility of (and breadth of) an attitudinal model of judicial decision making?

Suggested Reading: Segal, Jeffrey A. and Harold J. Spaeth. 2002. The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisisted. Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 0-521-78971-0.

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