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Essay Sample on Courts and Public Policy

4 pages
947 words
Carnegie Mellon University
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Since the inception of the rule of law, courts in the justice systems across civilizations have wielded enormous power. Ideally, it is argued that power brings about great responsibility. However, it is only in the past century that the courts in the American justice system have exercised this responsibility of influencing the tide of social policies and national politics. Courts are a crucial tool when it comes to influencing policy decisions, especially in major democracies such as the United States of America, where independence is guaranteed.

There are various schools of thought that insist on judges removing themselves from the prevailing social conditions when making rulings. The defense inherent in this argument is that the role of the judge is to apply the laws that are already made, rather than creating new policies (Marion & Oliver, 2012). Consequently, this has led to strong indictments, especially from conservatives on judges termed as activists. However, it is inevitable that judicial decrees will affect the public policy. Therefore, it is only logical that the judges be allowed to factor in the context into their rulings (Marion & Oliver, 2012). Rigid applications of the law with disregard to the social environment can only do more harm than good.

Apparently, courts make social policies through their decrees, owing to the power bestowed upon them. The best manifestation of the courts using their jurisdiction to direct public policy is evident in landmark rulings of inclusivity. For instance, the famous Brown v. Board of Education case marked a major milestone and turning point in the civil rights movement (Pitts, 1999). The United States Supreme Court declared the separation of schools among race lines to be unconstitutional. Following this historic ruling, the tide turned against segregation policies in the public educations system across the country. With regards to that single ruling, the courts managed to set a precedent upon which several other cases and policies would be molded.

Similarly, the courts through the judges who sit on the bench have the discretion to interpret and narrow down the applications of vaguely worded statutes that might be used to justify dubious policies in the public sphere. Even though the codified laws and legal structures limit this discretion, there is still some wiggle room to thrash out ambiguities in the constitution, which also lead to vagueness in the public policy (Marion & Oliver, 2012). Case in point, the Supreme Court overturned gun control laws after citing that the Second Amendment was undeniably vague. Through such rulings, which interpret the constitution with regards to an individual case, the courts streamline public policy and avoid sweeping declarations that rely on the legal loopholes brought forth by constitutional uncertainties.

Importantly, the courts are also responsible for providing clarity in the event of constitutional clauses that seem to contradict each other. Public policymaking has to align with the constitution for the policies to be valid, whether at local, state, or national level. In the case of conflicting laws, this can cause friction when two different statutes of a policy are supported by different provisions in the constitution (Dahl, 1957). For instance, in the previous decades, most states did not recognize gay marriage, terming it ungodly, since it went against the freedom of religion provided in the constitution. Since gay marriage was perceived irreligious, the states contended that they should not be forced to recognize such relationships, nor issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples. The Obergefell v. Hodges case ruling stated that the right to marry is not a preserve of the heterosexual unions only (Hermann, 2015). The Due Process Clause as well as the Equal; Protection Clauses provided all couples, whether same-sex or not, with the right to marry.

Additionally, courts are a necessary fixture in the making of public policy, since the legislative arms cannot be trusted to act solely in the best interests of the people they represent. For example, the American Congress decision-making is driven more by lobbyists and special interest groups, who bankroll their election without observing the will of the people. In addition to that, members are voted into Congress by voters who take into account several other factors that have no bearing on their ability to make sound policies. In such a case, the judiciary becomes a necessary check on the policies formulated by the elected officials (Dahl, 1957). Also, it is essential to note that the justice system is as decentralized as the legislative system. This makes it easier for the judges to make informed decisions even at the lowest levels of government, since they are in touch with the events influencing legislation on the ground.

In conclusion, it is clear that courts play an essential role in influencing the policymaking. Therefore, it is unethical for the judges to make decisions independent of the prevailing social conditions and other public considerations. It is also irresponsible to term any court decision that individuals disagree with, as an aspect of judicial activism. Personal beliefs are bound to filter into any rational human beings choices. This loophole in the court system can be well addressed by appointing an odd number of judges to the bench to ensure that all decisions are rationed out and voted on by them for fairness.


Dahl, R. A. (1957). Decision-making in a democracy: The Supreme Court as a national policy-maker. Journal of Public Law, 6, 279-295.

Hermann, D. H. (2015). Extending the fundamental right of marriage to same-sex couples: The United States Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Indiana Law Review, 49, 367.

Marion, N. E., & Oliver, W. M. (2012). The public policy of crime and criminal justice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Pitts, D. (1999). Brown v. Board of Education. The Supreme Court decision that changed a nation. USIA Eletronic Journals, (02), 38-46.

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