After travelling to London this summer, I have solidified my interest in propaganda and political action. Now back in Winona, I often wonder what can I do to fulfill my desire for activism and political analysis? Well, it just so happens that the CLASP series at WSU presented political science Prof. Matthew Bosworth this past Wednesday to talk about the Supreme Court and political activism as a part of Constitution Day. This caught my attention and I went eagerly to Stark Auditorium to hear what he had to say.
Bosworth started his presentation with the history of the Supreme Court. Apparently, the Supreme Court was the weakest branch pre-Civil War. Bosworth described it as “being bullied into doing what the other branches wanted it to do.” The Supreme Court would only meet about once a year in the basement of the Capitol and it usually did very little good; they didn’t have a unified voice and therefore didn’t have an opinion that mattered. Over time, several Chief Justices were able to seize powers for the court and ultimately make it into what it is today: the most influential and popular branch of government. “The overall theme here is if we look historically at the Supreme Court as a whole, it responds to social change. If we want something long enough and hard enough the Supreme Court will go along with it,” explained Bosworth.
And this is what really impressed me; Bosworth used multitudes of examples for court cases in the last 15-20 years whose outcome was based on popular vote. “If you don’t like things, the answer is political,” said Bosworth. Bosworth used the example of last year’s Marriage Bill and how many students on campus shared personal stories to help influence voters and made interest groups on campus. This is just a small step towards what Bosworth says is possible for Americans. Basically, if you form a special interest group and spend enough time marching around Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court will notice. And remember, just because the Supreme Court rules something does not make it permanent, “Even more significant than forming interest groups is reacting to Supreme Court decisions. The Supreme Court almost never rules completely; there’s always wiggle room and unanswered questions,” said Bosworth.
Even though all this sounds kind of cool, it made me wonder, is it actually ok for the Supreme Court to have that much power in government? How did Congress and our presidents let them gain so much power? Bosworth explained it as the Supreme Court being the more popular of the branches and also that the president and Congress are often divided. This happens because the president is usually either Republican or Democrat and Congress is usually just the opposite party. Because of this, the two often have a hard time reaching a unified decision. This makes it easy for the Supreme Court to push them both aside. Another interesting point that Bosworth raised was that the current justices in the Supreme Court didn’t have any previous experience and were not, therefore, politically sympathetic to one party and are more likely to listen to public opinion.
Overall, I was reminded of how complicated our government is, but also encouraged that one group of people, unified under one idea, can really make a difference in the national government by simply being involved.