The founding fathers wanted to curtail the potential abuse of power by the government. They attempted to do so by creating a system of checks and balances in the Constitution. Each of the three branches of the national government has authority in certain areas. They can check, or block, actions of the other institutions. Congress has four main ways it can check the Supreme Court’s powers.
Article III of the Constitution establishes the Supreme Court. The same Article gives Congress the authority to organize the Court. This power allows legislators to increase or decrease the number of justices of the Supreme Court as they see fit. President Franklin Roosevelt attempted to persuade Congress to use its right to increase the size of the Court justices in 1937. At the time, the president faced Court opposition to his economic policies. Roosevelt would have been the one to nominate the new appointees. Ultimately, Congress refused on this occasion to cooperate with the attempt to influence the law by packing the Court with favorable justices. Nevertheless, it remains the purview of Congress to adjust the size of the Court.
Congress has the authority to remove from office, by impeachment proceedings, federal officials convicted of bribery, treason or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The House of Representatives decides the rationale for the charges. Then, the Senate holds a trial. Congress thus possesses the power to remove Supreme Court justices and has attempted to do so in the past. In 1805, the House impeached Justice Samuel Chase, though the Senate found him not guilty.
The president nominates Supreme Court justices via the Article II, section 2, Appointment Clause of the Constitution. However, the Senate must vote to confirm, or accept, the president’s choices. Congress can deny unsuitable judges the right to sit on the Court. During the confirmation hearings it is increasingly common for senators to ascertain the political views of prospective justices.
Ultimately, as the legislating body, Congress can always write new laws and amend the Constitution. If it disagrees with a judicial interpretation of the Constitution, Congress can create a law that renders the decision ineffectual. In fact, the new legislation can reinstate the old decree by employing different wording. The Supreme Court would have to wait until an aggrieved party filed a lawsuit before it could react.
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- Cornell Law School: U.S. Constitution, Article III
- United States Courts: About the Supreme Court
- United States Senate Committee of the Judiciary: Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Court Packing" Plan
- U.S. Senate: Impeachment
- Federal Judicial Center: Samuel Chase
- Cornell Law School: U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 2
- American Government and Politics Today; Steffen W. Schmidt, Mack C. Shelley, II, Barbara A. Bardes, Lynne E. Ford and William Earl Maxwell
- The Supreme Court; Lawrence Baum
- Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images