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Lesson 25: What Is the Role of the Supreme Court in the American Constitutional System?

Lesson Purpose

The U.S. Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, a significant departure from the English tradition of formally placing judicial power in the legislative branch. Alexander Hamilton predicted that the Supreme Court would be the "least dangerous branch" because it depends on the other two branches to enforce its decisions. This lesson examines how the U.S. Supreme Court has become a coequal branch of the national government and describes some of the institutional checks on its power.

When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to explain the difference between the Supreme Court's original and appellate jurisdictions. You should be able to explain four methods of constitutional interpretation. You also should be able to explain how America's system of checks and balances limits the power of the Supreme Court. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues relating to the role of the Supreme Court in the constitutional system.