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. 




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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!


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