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Are Judges the Final Interpreters of the Constitution?

Does the Supreme Court get to dictate the meaning of the Constitution to the other branches of government? Are the decisions handed down the final law of the land? Professor Ilan Wurman explains that the role of judicial review is to decide the legal facts in a particular case. Congress and the President, along with the judiciary, are tasked with upholding the Constitution. No single branch can be the ultimate authority to interpret the Constitution. https://youtube.com/watch?v=hXVgb5poikU


Marbury v. Madison is often taken for the proposition that judges are the supreme interpreters of the Constitution, that whatever they say about the Constitution is the final and ultimate meaning of the Constitution binding on all parties and all branches. Judicial review stands for the proposition that the federal courts have the power to decide for themselves what the Constitution means in a particular case or controversy that comes before them, but that is not the same thing as saying that the courts are the ultimate arbiters of what the Constitution means. Congress often has to decide the meaning of the Constitution for its own purposes. The president has to decide the meaning of the Constitution for the president's purposes. Thus, the federal courts upheld the alien and sedition laws in the late 1700s, but Thomas Jefferson believed as president that those laws had been unconstitutional. He didn't defer to the court's judgments as to the constitutionality of those laws but instead exercised his own presidential power, the pardon power, to pardon anyone who had been convicted under these unconstitutional laws. When the Supreme Court decided the notorious and infamous Dred Scott decision, Abraham Lincoln famously said that that decision only bound the parties to that case. It only bound Dred Scott and Dred Scott's master. Lincoln encouraged Congress to reenact the Missouri Compromise, because he believed that Congress had the power to interpret the Constitution for itself and decide on the meaning of the Constitution irrespective of a particular case or controversy decided by the court.

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