Good Research Paper On The Federal Government In Action: The Supreme Court
When the delegates gathered for the Constitutional Convention in May of 1787, one of the primary questions on their minds was: what is the purpose of a federal government? Over the next several months, and often as the subject of intense debate, the Founding Fathers were finally able to answer the question in the form of the preamble to the Constitution. According to the preamble, the federal government has only a few broad purposes namely, “form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The Founding Fathers also established the three branches of the federal government and imbued each branch with specific powers and duties to give the federal government the tools it needed to achieve the purposes set for it.
Over the years as the nation, expanded, developed and diversified, the meaning of the purposes for the federal government has evolved. Whereas “provide for the common defense” may have meant protection against Britain or France at the time the Constitution was drafted; now includes protection the American interests across the world from state and non-state actors as well as from international and domestic enemies. While the original meaning of “establish Justice” might have been targeted to the landowning, European males of a certain age; today it has expanded to include men and women, rich and poor, as well as citizens of every race, ethnicity and religion. Similarly, as the meaning of the purpose of government has changed, the role of the federal government has also evolved. While the federal government was established to accomplish the purposes set out for it, the Constitution points out that its powers are limited. For most of the history of the nation, this has been interpreted to mean, the federal government is limited in the actions that it can take. Today, however, federal government action is anything but limited. Not a day goes by without encountering multiple forms of the federal government “in action.” From the vegetables and meat in our lunches, to the fact that we can receive a call on our smartphone on the way to the cafeteria; federal regulation, that is to say, federal government action is omnipresent.
Some federal government actions are easier to notice than others. The president’s status as “commander in chief and ability to order military actions; or Congress draft, consider and enact legislation are clear examples of government in action to achieve the federal government’s fundamental purpose which are readily noticeable. But what about the third branch of the federal government? Where are examples of the Supreme Court in action? While the Supreme Court is less in the spotlight as the other two branches, its actions are nevertheless just as important to fulfilling the purposes of the federal government as Congress and the President. The only difference is that the Supreme Court’s actions, which are known as “decisions”, are made in private debate between the nine Justices of the Court. Furthermore, once a decision was been agreed upon it is not announced at a press conference, campaign stop, or television interview. Instead, decisions are released in written format from the Court’s printing office only a couple of times a year; usually at the end of the spring and fall oral argument terms. Moreover, Justices don’t provide any oral commentary on the decision. If someone wants to know what a particular Justice’s thinking was on the topic of the decision, they’ll need to find and read their written opinions or comments in the actual decision. If a Justice did not make a comment in the decision, than there is no way to understand their point of view. Lastly, the fact that decisions are historically long documents written using abundant legal terminology makes them somewhat difficult to immediately understand without specialized legal training.
One of the more recent Supreme Court decisions that illustrate an example of its power and actions is the 2010 case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case concerned the constitutionality of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). In 2002, Congress passed the BCRA to limiting, among other points, labor unions and corporations, including non-profit corporations from financing broadcast ads naming or mentioning a federal candidate for office. In addition, BCRA prohibited the showing of broadcast ads within 30 days of a primary or caucus or 60 days of a general election (“McConnell”). In 2008, Citizens United, a small conservative non-profit corporation, provided financing for a film entitled Hillary: The Movie, which portrayed Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as being unfit to hold office. It also sought to buy television advertising in which to promote the movie. Upon review of the movie, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) determined that the movie was basically a long political ad and that Citizens United’s financial contribution was a violation of the BCRA. Accordingly, the FEC banned the movie from being broadcast. Moreover, because the television ads promoting the movie were scheduled for within 30 days of the primary, FEC prohibited them from being shown. Citizens United, then sued the FEC in federal court, arguing that the movie was exempt under BCRA, and therefore not subject to its requirements. The district court denied Citizens United relief, to which they appealed to the Supreme Court,
In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Kennedy, the Court agreed with Citizens United, that the BCRA was problematic, but not for the reasons that Citizens United had argued. Under the majority’s analysis, the main issue was not whether the movie was exempt from the BCRA, but rather whether the BCRA violated Citizens United’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression. In the eyes of the majority, the BCRA did violate the First Amendment. Indeed, according to the majority, political speech is fundamentally necessary to democracy. Political speech that is made by a corporation is every bit as important as when it is made by an individual. Spending on political ads is, according to the majority, a form of political speech that the First Amendment protects. If the government cannot force an individual citizen from spending on a candidate; it surely cannot forbid a labor union or corporation from spending their own money to support or oppose a candidate standing for a seat in a federal election. Nor may the government forbid a labor union or corporation from trying to persuade the public “through other means” (“Citizens United”). The decision went on to determine that the only limit the government can impose on a labor union or corporation is one that forbids them from giving money directly to a candidate or a candidate’s campaign.
The Court’s decision in Citizens United was remarkable for a number of reasons. First, illustrates the power that the Supreme Court holds law, politics and even business. For example, the fact that the Court declared political spending to be speech instantly made the regulations of campaign contributions substantial more difficult. Whereas, prior to Citizens United, a regulatory body like the FEC could say, a US $1 billion dollar contribution is too much, now must figure out whether it even has the authority make a money for political speech conversion that can be used to determine when any contribution is too much. A second example is the Court’s emphasis that a corporation is equivalent to a human person, at least in terms of the law (“Citizens United”). Soon after the decisions, other corporations began using the idea to advance their own interests. Perhaps the most well-known, recent case making use of this s the 2013 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores case. In this case, the Hobby Lobby Corporation objected to the requirement under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that employers provide health care plans that include contraceptives. According to the Hobby Lobby, the ACA provision violated the stores’ religious liberty protections under the First Amendment. The Court agreed, citing Citizens United held that the Constitution protected the Hobby Lobby just as it protects individual citizens.
Second, the Citizens United also had tremendous consequences for the relationship between the Court and the other branches of the federal government. To be sure, soon after the decision was released, President Obama broke protocol and denounced the holding as wrong and repeated his opposition to it during the 2010 State of the Union address (“President Obama”). President Obama went on to say that the decision would open the “floodgates” for huge corporations to influence our elections. Congress, or at least most of the Democrats in Congress also let their displeasure be publicly known; with some calling for new legislation to limit its effects to others calling for a constitutional amendment for its repeal.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 588 U.S. 310. U.S. Supreme Court. 2010. Web.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, 134 S.Ct. 2751. U.S. Supreme Court. 2013. Web.
Lee, Jesse. “President Obama on Citizens United “Imagine the Power This Will Give Special Interests Over Politicians.” The White House Blog. whitehouse.gov, 26 Jul. 2010. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, 540 U.S. 93. U.S. Supreme Court. 2003. Web.