Posted: February 24th, 2023

The justices on the U.S. Supreme Court

The justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have many ways to communicate their views on the cases presented to them. Certainly they announce their rulings on the cases and write opinions, but simply the nature of the questions they ask (or don’t ask) during oral arguments before the Court offer an indication of the justices’ viewpoints on issues. And the cases themselves that the Court agrees to hear can communicate a great deal. Do you think the modern court’s tendency to engage in policymaking through the cases it chooses to hear, and through activist decisions, helps or harms the nation? Can you think of a recent case (or cases) that really illustrated this?

There is ongoing debate about the role of the U.S. Supreme Court in policymaking and whether or not it is appropriate for the Court to be activist in its decisions. Some argue that the Court should be a neutral arbiter, interpreting the law and Constitution as it is written and leaving policy decisions to the other branches of government. Others believe that the Court has a responsibility to address pressing social and political issues and to use its power to effect change when necessary.

The Court’s tendency to engage in policymaking can be seen in the cases it chooses to hear, as well as in the decisions it renders. For example, the Court may choose to hear a case that addresses a controversial issue, such as abortion or same-sex marriage, and its ruling on that case can have significant consequences for the nation as a whole. Similarly, the Court may issue a decision that is seen as activist, either because it goes beyond the specific facts of the case or because it addresses a broader policy issue.

One recent example of the Court engaging in policymaking through its decisions is the case of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, which addressed the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. In this case, the Court upheld the ACA, but it also ruled that the provision requiring states to expand Medicaid coverage was unconstitutional. This decision had significant implications for the implementation of the ACA and for the provision of healthcare to low-income individuals.

The extent to which the Court’s tendency to engage in policymaking helps or harms the nation is a matter of debate. Some believe that the Court’s activism allows it to address important social and political issues and to bring about necessary change, while others argue that it undermines the separation of powers and the democratic process.

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