The Most Dangerous Branch: The Evolution of the Judicial System and Its Accumulation of Power

Student: Jenna Passerino*
Mentor: Gary Rose
Major: Political Science

The implications of the decisions made by the creators of the United States Constitution are still largely relevant today. After finally gaining freedom from the oppressive Great Britain in 1776, even the smallest details of the document became crucial to its ratification and have changed the course of history dramatically. Controversy over the size and role of government split the nation’s public opinion into two schools of thought- the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. While arguments were made about numerous issues that the document was presenting, one in particular impacted and has continued to impact this nation in the most significant way. The Anti-Federalists, those against the Constitution’s ratification, raised an objection to the structure of the separation of powers, citing the Judicial Branch as having a disproportionate amount of control over the Legislative and Executive due to their lifetime appointments, their lack of clear doctrine to guide their decision making, and their lack of oversight. The Federalists disagreed claiming that since they have no control over the main powers of government, the economy or the nation’s defense, they actually are the least dangerous branch of the three.

It has since become clear that the Federalists were wrong. The Judicial System has grown and changed dramatically to include powers that were neither explicated or, arguably, intended by the founding fathers. With the decision of the Marshall Court in Marbury versus Madison in 1803 that established judicial review, and continuing on through controversial court rulings like those made during the Lochnerian Court or Warren Court, the Judicial System has become an increasingly powerful player in the realms of not only economics and national defense, but in politics and social change. Whether or not this evolution has been positive or negative for the country as a whole remains somewhat subjective, but it is no longer unclear that the Judicial Branch has a greater scope of power than the other two.

*Honors Senior