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Analyze and evaluate decisions by the United States Supreme Court about the constitutional principles of separation of powers and checks and balances in such landmark cases as Marbury v. Madison (1803), Baker v. Carr (1962), United States v. Nixon (1974), City of Boerne, Texas v. Flores (1997), and Clinton v. City of New York (1998)
The US Supreme Court: Washington DC
Focus Question: How has the Supreme Court interpreted the principles of the separation of powers and checks and balances?
AP American Government C: Checks and Balances
separation of powers
was created by the framers of the constitution as a way of ensuring that there would be too much centralized power in the American government system. There are three different branches of government at the national level: The Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch.
James Madison, 1816
“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may just-ly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." James Madison on the Separation of Powers.
Each branch of government has checks and balances to prevent one branch from having too much power or control over the others.
Landmark Supreme Court Cases and the Constitution
Landmark Cases of the U. S. Supreme Court
from Street Law
Marbury v. Madison (1803)
This case is credited with establishing
which gives the Supreme Court the right to rule laws or actions as unconstitutional. This is the Supreme Court's major check on the Federal Government.
This case was brought to the Supreme Court because in the last few days of John Adams presidency he appointed several men to positions in the government, one a man named William Marbury. These men were not given their jobs when Adams left office because the appointments were said not to be finalized.
In a 4 to 0 ruling (Justices Moore and Cushing did not participate), the Supreme Court ruled that they had the right to determine if an act of the Legislature went against "the nations highest law" or the Constitution. If it was decided that their actions did then the Supreme Court has the right to make that act invalid, therefor establishing judicial review.
United States History I.25
for more on Marbury v. Madison.
iCivics lesson plan
for teaching Marbury v. Madison.
Baker v. Carr (1962)
Charles W. Baker and other Tennessee citizens claimed that the state ignored population shifts and growth in the economy when appointing seats for the General Assembly, which was mandated by a 1901 Tennessee law.
They brought the case to the Supreme Court which rose the question, did the Supreme Court have any jurisdiction in legislature appointment?
In a 6 to 2 vote, the Court asserted that under the 14th Amendment it could intervene in how the state of Tennessee was reapportioning legislative districts.
In so doing, the Court moved away from a position of judicial restraint to assert greater power in its relationship with the legislative branch of government.
H.R. Haldeman, Dwight Chapin, John D. Ehrlichman, President Richard Nixon, March 1970
United States v. Nixon (1974)
In this Watergate-related case, President Richard M. Nixon cited "executive privilege" in refusing to give audio tapes of oval office conversations to a special prosecutor who was investigating the actions of Nixon and his aides.
In a 8 to 0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the president could not use "executive privileges" to hide or keep information secret.
This established that the president was not above the law.
For more information on Watergate, see
iCivics mini lesson
for teaching United States v. Nixon.
City of Boerne, Texas v. Flores (1997)
Archbishop Flores of San Antonio sued the city of Boerne because the city wouldn't let them expand the church to fit the needs of his growing congregation.
He claimed using the
1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)
that the state was limiting his religious freedom.
The city of Boerne rebutted by saying the act was unconstitutional as it limits how the states can regulate religious uses of land.
In a 6 to 2 decision, the Supreme Court decided the RFRA violated the constitution.
Clinton v. City of New York (1998)
This case involves President Clinton and his Line Item Veto Act.
Clinton cancelled provisions in both the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and the Tax Payer R
President Bill Clinton
elief Act of 1997.
This angered two groups who went on to challenge his right to cancel these provisions. The cases were consolidated into one and presented before the Supreme Court.
In a 6 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that his cancellation violated the
Presentment Clause of Article I
which says that legislation that is passed through the House and Congress must either be signed into law or rejected. The president cannot pick and choose what he likes.
This further limited the power of the presidency.
for teaching 10th-12th Clinton v. New York (1998)
Other landmark Supreme Court Cases
Roe v. Wade (1973)
Miranda V. Arizona (1966)
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
Supreme Court Watch
Supreme Court Justices are not objective and demonstrate the inconsistencies of Democracy
The Bias of the Supreme Court
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