Marbury v. Madison, which established the power of judicial review for the Supreme Court, changed the course of American history. This power to review legislation that congress has passed and possibly deem it unconstitutional has had a profound impact on American society. This power provides a check on the Legislative branch, but it also lends itself to an important debate over when the Court can and should use this power. Should the court use this power to increase the power of the national government, something many call judicial activism? Or should this power be used to curtail national legislative power and increase the liberties given to individuals? During the period around the Great Depression, the court dealt with many economic cases regarding these questions, and at first glance, it appears that they did not seem to favor either the government or the individual. Looking closer, however, one sees that the cases that side with the individual struck down legislation that interfered with the commerce clause or police power. When legislation invoking either of the aforementioned clauses was provided, the Supreme Court tended to side with the Government over the individual, as seen in the cases Munn v. Illinois, National Relations Board v. Jones, and Wickard v. Filburn. When the legislation provided had no business with the commerce clause or police power, such as in Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, the court had no choice but to side with the individual.
The case Munn v. Illinois, using the provisions of the police power derived from the tenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, was a pivotal case involving the government versus the individual in regards to their rights in economic matters. The 1877 ruling held …
…the Supreme Court, during the time in and around the Great Depression, valued the commerce clause and the police power above the contract clause. The aforementioned cases clearly show this bias of siding with the government using these provisions. Could the President’s threat of a “Court-Packing Plan” have forced the Supreme Court to act in this way? It is theoretically possible, but public out lash at Roosevelt’s plan nearly ensured that such a plan would not have come to fruition, and if that is the case, the justices had nothing to fear and no reason to give in to his wishes.
Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923).
Constitution of the United States Amendment 14. 1868.
Reprint in “The Civil War and Reconstruction Amendments” Comp. C. Mathie. 2013. 2.
Munn v. Illinois (1877).
National Labor Relations Board v. Jones (1937).
Wickard v. Filburn (1942).