One Out of Five Stars- Checks and Balances on the Judicial Branch
Published on January 24, 2023
Checks and Balances

The year is 1985.  With Christmas quickly approaching, you have been keeping an eye out for great gifts for those special people on your list.  You think of an item your sister might like – a new cassette player with auto-reverse, so she won’t have to physically take out the cassette tape to flip it and play the other side.  Wow, what a luxury!  In the electronics section at your local K-Mart, they have three different models with similar specs.  Which one should you get?  How terrible you will feel if you buy an unreliable or poor performing product!  Wouldn’t it be nice if you had an idea of what others have thought about the products after they purchased them?  No pun intended, but fast forward 35+ years or so and you are instantly armed with all that information!  With online reviews, you don’t even have to stand in the aisle at the store.  You can grab your phone, quickly consider different models (although I doubt auto-reverse is still a criteria), and check out the reviews.  You have instant access to everything from five-star, glowing remarks, all the way to the one-star guy who hated the product and is very happy to fully explain why.  So, today we all benefit from a system where there are many voices working together.  Sometimes, almost everyone uses their voice to say “This is great”, and we get five-star reviews.  At those times, we can feel confident we should expect a good result.  Other times, people push back and let us know the reasons why we should steer clear of something in order to avoid a bad result.

Checks and Balances

Our system of government was designed long before online reviews.  In fact, it was even designed before auto-reverse and cassette tapes.  However, it was designed with a system of checks and balances for much the same reason.  You see, our founders did not like power being highly concentrated in the hands of a limited number of people.  They felt power should be decentralized and split up to different people, and even different branches of government so they could help keep each other in line.  They wanted officials all across the government to be able to speak up and intervene to avoid bad results.  Our government officials were even given far more power than simply the right to express an opinion, like an online review, but instead they were given the legal right to stop things and shut down bad or unconstitutional decisions.  In fact, the ability of the different branches to push back against poor government ideas or the misapplication of government power is more than just their right – it is their duty, and is backed with legal authority to intervene. 

Leave those one star reviews

In the three branches of American government today, we often see a reluctance to exert this power, or to use the extensive system of checks and balances to ensure we stay on the Constitutional path.  It is as if we don’t want to rock the boat by leaving one-star reviews to point out problems, so we allow things to move along as if all is well.  With nobody speaking up, nobody exercising their appropriate checks and balances, then we end up buying our sister a stereo that will give her problems (or really, far worse things by allowing government to do unconstitutional things) and nobody objects, or points out the danger of the direction we are going!  If our government isn’t ensuring that all branches abide by the Constitution, then they are failing to do their duty.  As Americans, we need to be familiar with the Constitutional system of checks and balances so we can hold our officials accountable. 

keeping the judicial branch in line

As we discussed in the article, “The Voice of We the People”, Congress is designed to be the most powerful branch of our government.  I think that may come as a surprise to some of us.  Many times, we might think the Judicial Branch is the strongest, because it seems the Supreme Court has the last word on everything in our society.  We say things like “The Supreme Court ‘Legalized’ something”, when Article 1, Section 1 of the Constitution (literally the first line of the Constitution with force of law) clearly gives ALL legislative authority to Congress.  Since Congress was designed to be the strongest branch of the government, many of the checks and balances we find in the Constitution give Congress power to keep the other branches in line.  As we continue this series on the Congress, I wanted to share some Constitutional checks and balances that Congress has to keep other branches in line.  Let’s start with Congress’ Constitutional checks and balances designed for them to hold the Judicial Branch and even Supreme Court itself in line.

Federal Courts are in the Hands of Congress

Let’s start with Article 3, Section 1 of the Constitution.  Article 3 deals with the Judicial Branch.  In the first few lines of Article 3, the Constitution says,

“The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” 

Article 3, Section 1

So, what we see here is the entirety of the Judicial Branch of the federal government residing in “one supreme Court”, and then whatever other courts Congress deems necessary.  The term, “from time to time” communicates also that a decision to stand up a court does not have to be a permanent decision.  The Constitution is clear the one Supreme Court will always be there, but the others are there as deemed necessary by Congress.  So, if a federal court is failing to abide by the Constitution, consistently making unconstitutional decisions, Congress has the Constitutional authority to abolish it!  If it later turns out we need another one, they can establish another one!  The important thing to notice here is that, with the exception of the Supreme Court, even the very existence of each federal court is firmly in the hand of Congress. 

Checks and Balances

Jurisdiction of even the Supreme Court is in the Hands of Congress

Jurisdiction of a court is its authority to hear certain types of cases.  What could be more important to a court than its jurisdiction?  I think most Americans would assume the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear any cases whatsoever of any issue in the United States…  Well, here is something from the Constitution that really blew my mind…  Congress controls the jurisdiction of even the Supreme Court!  In Article 3, Section 2 of the Constitution, we find,

“In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make”.

Article 3, Section 2

Take that power away

So, Congress can make exceptions to the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction!  Can you imagine for a major issue like even abortion, if Congress were to say abortion is murder and therefore illegal in the United States – and then take jurisdiction of abortion away from the Supreme Court!  It is there in the Constitution – we need to start asking our Congressmen to exercise this duty. 

The supreme court is not supposed to be this powerful

Congress is a powerful branch.  It is designed to be the most powerful branch in the federal government.  The Constitution gives Congress amazing powers as well as the duty to use those powers to ensure we stay true to our Constitution and to “We the People”.  We need to communicate with our Representative and Senators and start asking them why they are not exercising these powers.  Why do we let federal courts trample our Constitution?  Why do we allow the Supreme Court to assume all kinds of power and jurisdiction, and even to steal legislative authority specifically and exclusively given to Congress?  These are conversations that Americans need to have with those in Congress who represent us.  Each of them took an oath to support the Constitution, and these key checks and balances are important duties of Congress found there.  We need to hold them accountable to make sure they are being properly used. 

Other posts in this series


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  1. Kakie

    I like the take action to let my representatives know how I feel about issues. (aka my review lol) I call email and write snail mail. I believe it is important to not let professional activist be the only voice they hear.

    I believe the DC courts need to be looked at by Legislative branch for their misbehavior in J6 trails. Denial of due process, reasonable bail, speedy trials and change of venue. The judges should be impeached for heavy-handed sentences for misdemeanors. Citizens have constitutional right to equal protection under the law. However, in these same courts during 2016 inauguration riot defendants were treated differently.

    • Jason Southerland

      Amen. Yes, the whole J6 thing has been a shameful display of corrruption, abuse, and mockery of our legal system. Yes, I agree the judges should be impeached, or the courts abolished. May Americans wake up and hold all of our officials accountable, and may we hold our Senators and Representatives in Congress accountable to exercise their Constitutional duty of checks and balances. Thank you for your comment!

  2. Jeff Segal

    I feel that today Congress is not doing their duty to hold courts accountable at all. Just look at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has had many of their rulings overturned by the Supreme Court because their ruling did not follow the Constitution. And as for the Supreme Court itself has also in some cases I feel overstepped their authority as well. And up until recently it has been ruling on their views and not what the Constitution says. And because of it many Americans have had problems because of their rulings. Which were made on their liberal views and not what the Constitution says. But with more Constitutional judges being appointed to the court it is changing in some sorts of ways. And getting back to where it is suppose to be. Great Article.

    • Jason Southerland

      Thank you Jeff! Yes I agree we need Congress to hold the courts accountable! Thank you for your participation in class and for your comment!

      • Madison

        I agree that the supreme court doesn’t need to be as powerful as it is today. I learned a lot ready this blog, thank you!

        • Jason Southerland

          Yes! According to the first few words of Article 1, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States…”, but so often, the Supreme Court decisions are seen as laws. Thank you for your comment!

  3. Jennifer Z

    These days congress seems to pass along a lot of its power and authority. We don’t have statesmen anymore but politicians worried about the next vote or next payout from lobbyist.
    Have you heard that a Tx Rep is attempting to hold District Judge Brown accountable for her decision in the Younger case (transgendering)?

    • Jason Southerland

      I agree with you for sure! We have to hold Congress to not do things they do not have jurisdiction to do, but we also need for them to do their duty in the areas they have been given! Thank you for your comment! I am not familiar with that case you mentioned, but it sounds interesting – I will look it up. Thanks again.

  4. Suzy Enney

    While Congress should address its power and authority, they choose to look to their party agenda and accountability has not place in their work ethic. While we have some that do look to hold to their duties they are bullied. They are called out for doing what should be done with lies to the media to derail them as the “people” are ignorant of the facts. That is why, “We the people” need to unite among ourselves, supporting those doing their duty and calling out those that forgot the true duties of their office. Moreover, use of the pen to remind them of their duties and letting them know we are praying for them to work the will of the people.

    • Jason Southerland

      Absolutely – we should hold them accountable for doing what is right (and for requiring the Judiciary to do what is right). Americans have to learn these things in order to hold our federal officials accountable! Thank you for your comment!

  5. Tim Rennie

    I fear that were Congress to attempt to carve out specific jurisdiction from the Supreme Court, claiming that the power to do so is granted by the Constitution, that the Supreme Court could attempt to rule that such powers are no longer valid due to the fact that Congress has never exercised proper protection of this power by the way it has relied on the Supreme Court to clarify policy over the decades, similar to the problem a technology patent holder may unknowingly void protections otherwise granted by patent law due to a neglect of their responsibility to reasonably act to properly protect such technology.

    Regardless, it would bean interesting fight!

    • Jason Southerland

      Yes I agree we have let the court misuse its “Judicial review” function and lost sight of the fact that all of them are sworn to uphold the Constitution. But at the same time, it is so clearly written into the text of the document… so maybe it could still be doable… Yes, I agree it would be an interesting fight! I for one am willing to give it a try… 🙂 Thank you for your comment!

  6. Savannah

    Thank You breaking down a few of the articles and explaining in detail about what they really mean! Also, I feel like the Congress has not been doing their duty and holding the courts accountable at all. Very good Information!

    • Jason Southerland

      Exactly! Yes, Congress has not been doing their duty – many times because they are busy doing things that are not their duty! We have to hold them accountable and get them out of office if they aren’t going to follow the Constitution. Thank you for your comment!

  7. Johni J. Peckinpaugh

    Jurisdiction of even the Supreme Court is in the hands of Congress. Article 3 section 2 of the Constitution. Congress holds the power over even the Supreme Court. Victory news reports straight forward progress and brings to this programming viewership what to lift up in prayer and praise for. It’s better than attending any sports event ever. Particularly, I like baseball!
    Anyhow, last week, the mainstream news reported about the law brought about by Governor Abbot herein Texas over our border issues and where the Supreme Court ruling in Abbots favor was challenged by a different court. Some called it a lessor court. I recognize it stems from this structure and still trust Gods will be done and justice will ultimately prevail. This reminds me to get my head out of homework long enough to look into the previews report on this also.

    • Johni J. Peckinpaugh

      I typed progress, Progress, PROGRESS report. lol I am particular about detail and will never stop insisting technology get better and better about this either. Thanks for the grace to vent a little . Ha ha ha.

      • Jason Southerland

        You’re good! 🙂 Yes, even the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is in the hands of our Representatives in Congress! The system of checks and balances is so brilliant, and yet it seems so seldom used anymore. Thank you for your comment and the reminder that we all need from time to time that God will win this thing in the end! Thanks again!


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