The Warren Court and the Political Process

Our complex political system creates endless opportunity to debate the proper roles and powers of each of our principal political institutions. Students of the Supreme Court who quarrel over the proper role of the Court sometimes forget that the powers of the President and the proper place of Congress have also been subject to fierce controversy throughout our history, and that the political tension between the national government and the states has provided a persistent theme from the beginning of the Republic. It must never be forgotten that the system provided by the Framers was not designed to produce efficient government, but rather was intended, through the positing of power against power, to create a “free” government, one in which property and the other minority rights might be reasonably secure against the weight of popular majorities. Yet, they did not-and in the nature of things they could not-set forth a detailed permanent model, one in which the role of each of our great political institutions was rigorously defined for all times. James Madison, speculating about the probable strength of each of the three branches of the new government, gave the palm to the legislature, which, in his judgment, tended to draw “all power into its impetuous vortex.” His fellow. commentator, Hamilton, awarded third place to the Supreme Court, “beyond comparison the weakest of the three.” The relationship between national and state governments conceived by Madison envisaged the popular and powerful states as fully’ capable of resisting national power; thus, the task of the newly established national government was to attract sufficient support to enable it to serve as a counterweight to the divisive tendencies of the states.