“But it is not with a view to infractions of the Constitution only, that the independence of the judges may be an essential safeguard against the effects of occasional ill humors in the society. These sometimes extend no farther than to the injury of the private rights of particular classes of citizens, by unjust and partial laws. Here also the firmness of the judicial magistracy is of vast importance in mitigating the severity and confining the operation of such laws. It not only serves to moderate the immediate mischiefs of those which may have been passed, but it operates as a check upon the legislative body in passing them; who, perceiving that obstacles to the success of iniquitous intention are to be expected from the scruples of the courts, are in a manner compelled, by the very motives of the injustice they meditate, to qualify their attempts. This is a circumstance calculated to have more influence upon the character of our governments, than but few may be aware of.”
— Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #78 (1788)
As we approach the date when Donald Trump is set to announce his nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the US Supreme Court, one week after it became apparent that the White House has opted to remove the page (since largely restored) that had previously been in place explaining the judicial branch of our government (but left in place the pages on the legislative and executive), and three days since federal judges began granting temporary injunctions against parts of the president’s executive order on immigration, I thought that a reminder from Alexander Hamilton on the purpose of an independent judiciary to our republic might be useful.
I fear our president, and his staff, and possibly our congressional representatives as well, may need a civics refresher – and possibly a quick course on the US constitution which does, in fact, lay out three equal branch of government (that whole checks and balances thing). As a brief reminder – Article I set out the guidelines for the Legislative Branch (both the House of Representatives and the Senate), Article II establishes the Executive Branch and Article III defines the Judicial Branch. James Madison, in Federalist #47 (1788), did an admirable job explaining the 3 complementary branches & in Federalist #51 (1788), Madison (but possibly Hamilton – there is uncertainty) explicitly made the case for the checks and balances afforded by the separation of powers between the three branches – and why they were necessary.
Knowledge is power – arm yourselves. You’ll need it.
Image of the supreme Court building in Washington DC from https://www.aoc.gov/capitol-buildings/supreme-court-building