Suppose the US supreme court goes crazy and rules that the constitution means something it clearly does not mean. “This court finds there is no constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech”, for instance, even though the constitution says the exact opposite quite plainly. By what mechanism would the other two branches of government check-n-balance the court?
Could congress impeach the justices? It’s hard to claim that merely being wrong is “high crimes” against the nation, so unsure if that would fly. Even if it did, the court decision has already been handed down.
Simply ignore the court’s ruling? This obviously sets up incredibly bad precedent if the executive branch is allowed to ignore court rulings it doesn’t agree with.
Pass a constitutional amendment clarifying the point the court ruled on? But that wouldn’t change anything since the court could just delibertly misinterpret that amendment, too.
So what check-n-balace process exists to restrain a crazier-than-crazy court?
Yes, justices can be impeached and removed upon conviction. Remember that an impeachment trial is not a criminal trial, it is a legislative process, and the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and the burden of proof is entirely up to them.
Even easier: increase the number of justices on the court, and appoint some new guys who you know will like you. Requires no constitutional amendment (the size of the court is set by statute) though it does require the cooperation of Congress and the president.
Don’t want to drag out the Constitution, but I recall impeachment being in their. There was a public call for the impeachment of William O. Douglas once, don’t recall the circumstances, don’t recall if any action was attempted. I recall statements made that a justice can only be impeached for actions taken after appointment to the court, but don’t of anything to back this up.
The simplest solution is for Congress to rewrite whatever law the Court struck down, taking the majority’s opinion as a guideline for what to leave in the new law, and what to take out.
If that’s not practical, Congress and the states can get together to pass a Constitutional amendment that specifically allows whatever it was the Court struck down. You may recall the 16th Amendment specifically allowed a federal income tax. That was in response to a Supreme Court ruling striking down the income tax.
A more extreme route would be the Franklin Roosevelt approach of trying to enlarge the Supreme Court and appoint a whole bunch of additional judges (who happen to agree with you) who would then outvote the existing judges.
Finally, I wouldn’t discount impeachment. The Constitution is notoriously vague on what an impeachable offense is. The House has the sole power to begin impeachment proceedings, and the Senate has the sole power to try an impeachment. There is no appeal.
I think a lot of these answers aren’t addressing the absurdity of the OP’s example, which is of a ruling that completely contradicts the plain wording of the Constitution “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech”.
It’s all well and good to craft a new law, or to amend the Constitution to make something constitutional, but that doesn’t really do any good if the Court is making completely arbitrary rulings. What’s to stop them from claiming that your new law is equally invalid, or that the Amendment doesn’t say what you want it to say, or that the new justices were not properly selected, or that the Constitution doesn’t really give the legislature the power to impeach?
Once you’ve gone down the road of one branch of the government directly contradicting the Constitution, the answer is pretty much that you have a constitutional crisis and whoever has more guns on his side wins.
Without arguing about the possibility of the OPs scenario, I think the plain fact that the court would essentially be acting “insanely” would make it a political “slam dunk” to impeach the court in its entirety and get a new court in its place.
SCOTUS justices do not get impeached for the decisions they make because that would be unacceptable to the American public, and any congressional leaders who tried to start a move to impeach a justice for that reason would be committing political suicide. However, in the crazy scenario of a rogue SCOTUS doing things like ruling that Freedom of Speech no longer exists the situation would become such that any politician wishing to keep their jobs would be on board with the mass impeachment. It would probably be done very quickly and with overwhelming votes in the House for the articles of impeachment and overwhelming votes in the Senate for conviction/removal.
Now, the reality is such a situation is unlikely to ever occur. Because of the very fact that SCOTUS justices have to essentially pass under a microscope to get appointed and because they are appointed for life it would be very unlikely to have a majority of the court that was essentially willing to arbitrarily destroy large parts of the constitution. Lifetime terms mean the membership is staggered that even if there was a crop of ruinous politicians putting in lunatic justices such a period would have to persist for a lengthy time for the court to be packed with crazed justices (and that sort of highlights the point–to get a bunch of justices that would be willing to rule in contravention to the plain text of the constitution the whole political establishment would already be so far gone that the entire concept of the SCOTUS would be mostly irrelevant.)
I think that you could just ignore the ruling of the court. If the Congress and the President are on the same team, the President enforces the law as he wishes and Congress does not move to impeach him.
Then as John Mace said, pass a new law removing the power of judicial review from the court as it pertains to that matter. If they are really going nutty, then impeachment would be in order.
Can you really remove judicial review for a Constitutional matter, though? I haven’t looked up the relevant Article lately, but I thought that the SCOTUS had the explicit right to rule on Constitutional issues. Based on the OP’s hypothetical scenario that it’s a Constitutional issue, is that not correct?
You could simply amend the Constitution to remove all currently serving justices immediately upon passage of said amendment…
Done and done.
Now, the party not in power wouldn’t want the President to appoint all of them, so you could include language allowing the minoirty leader to nominate 3 or 4 of the justices or whatever, but the point is that you can basically do whatever you want with a constitutional amendment.
You could imeach the justices, but that may set a bad precedent in terms of impeachment for political purposes - although in such an extreme instance, that may be OK.
Passing a law sayign that what the court said was unconstitutional was in fact constitutional would not work, under the combined effect of the Supremacy Clause and Marbury v. Madison.
Passing an amendment that said that the court was wrong would work - but if they were ‘crazy’ as the OP suggested, then they could ignore that amendment as easily as they ignored the 1st amendment, leaving you in the same boat as you started.
Clearly, you would need to get rid of them in this case - impeachment and removal by amendment would both do the trick - and although doing so by amendment would take longer, it would be more appropriate IMO.
In the meantime, the Exective Branch could simply not enforce any laws that infringed upon any freedoms of speech.
How about making a “Supreme Court v2.0” where the original court just becomes some crazy group of nine, banging gavels in an empty room and making rulings that fall on deaf ears? You make a new court and call that “The Supreme Court” and just ignore those other lunatics.
That way, you get around the problem of them saying “Nope, your puny Amendment to get rid of us isn’t valid! Muahaha!”
One problem is that defining what this includes is harder than one might think. Plenty of people would say that the Court did just this in the Griswold/Roe line of cases in which it articulated a Constitutional right of privacy. Or in Lochner or Kelo or Citizens United. For that matter, in Marbury v. Madison, the Court vested in itself an enormous power nowhere mentioned in the Constitution.
Basically, the country adjusts. There may be room for some legislative fixes or some subsequent litigation to narrow the ruling. There are options noted above to add new justices or at least replace the old ones as they go. There’s always the possibility of a constitutional amendment, and if the country can’t manage to pass one of those, well, then the ruling might not be as insane some might think.