For nearly two centuries, the U.S. Supreme Court has been the primary interpreter of the Constitution’s meaning. Although not specifically provided by the document itself, the power of the judiciary to interpret the Constitution has existed since Chief Justice Marshall asserted it in Marbury v. Madison. As the ultimate authority on the constitution’s meaning, the Supreme Court exercises the power to define, amplify and steer the document’s operative terms and conditions. Constitutional law, as a consequence, comprises not only broad and imprecise terms of the charter itself, but also a massive body of case law expounding principle, doctrine and sometimes contradiction.
Even if the judiciary’s eventual role was not specifically contemplated by the Constitution’s architects, they nonetheless created a political structure from which modern powers of review emerged. The Supreme Court’s interpretive eminence, as noted previously, was established in Marbury v. Madison. The case itself arose from the intense rivalry between political parties competing to shape the republic in its formative years. Specifically at issue was whether a newly elected Republican president was required to deliver commissions to last-minute judicial appointments of his Federalist predecessor. From clash of competing ideologies emerged not only a resolution of the immediate controversy, but a further definition of the government itself as well (Lively, 1992).
The power of judicial review, even as so depicted, nonetheless is a function of progress rather than ordination. Establishment of the Court’s primacy in defining the Constitution’s meaning was significant not only as a development itself, but also as a source of further evolution.
Lively, D. E. (1992). Foreshadows of the law: Supreme Court dissents and constitutional development. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group.