New Ideas in Old Places

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Me with the Supreme Court Building.

By Josh Hughes

Perhaps one of the most stable institutions in the history of the United States is the judiciary. Through good times and bad, war and peace, the court system has stood as a monument to justice across the United States. Despite the many injustices served and problems of the judicial system across our history, the judiciary has still stood, uninterrupted, since the framing of the Constitution. Today, our group got the incredible opportunity to visit the veritable seat of the judiciary, the Supreme Court of the United States.
The Supreme Court building, which was built in the 1930’s, is impressive in stature. Approaching from the west, visitors are confronted by 16 soaring Corinthian columns and a a blindingly white marble structure. The interior of the building is equally as stunning as the exterior. The main hall, which features massive columns and a high ceiling is flanked by busts of each of the 17 Chief Justices of the Supreme Court. At the end of the great hall stand massive doors to the Supreme Court chamber. Guests can peer into the red bunting clad courtroom, where such landmark cases as Brown v. Board, Roe. v. Wade, Bush v. Gore, and Obergefell v. Hodges were decided.

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The Supreme Court Chamber, photo credit Grace Dunn.

I’m incredibly interested in the law, and visiting the Supreme Court has given me the unique opportunity to reflect on something that I’ve studied for a couple years now. Being able to see the room where cases that mean so much to me were settled, was really a special moment. Seeing the space also gave me an opportunity to pause and reflect on a lot of my thoughts for reforming the Supreme Court. Over the past two hundred years, we’ve demanded both the legislative and the executive branches reform and modernize. Frustratingly, we’ve exempted the Supreme Court from that for some reason of preserving the ‘spirit of the court’ or other reasons. To me, there is no reason to exclude the court from some much needed reforms, such as allowing C-SPAN to film proceedings among others.

Visiting the Supreme Court also gave me some pause in thinking what the law should functionally mean in the United States. There’s a huge difference in the cases that have been decided by the Supreme Court. There have been judicially restrained decisions, or decisions which do not typically overturn precedent and follow stare decisis, such as Dred Scott v. Sandford, and Plessy v. Ferguson. There has also been judicially active decisions, or when the court is amenable to overturning precedent and makes new law such as in District of Colombia vs. Heller, and Roe vs. Wade. The debate about whether the court should take a more judicially active role or a more judicially restrained role remains as one of the prominent questions surrounding the judiciary.

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One thought on “New Ideas in Old Places

  1. Pingback: 5 Things I Like and Dislike: The Washington D.C. Experience | Drake in D.C.

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