Supreme CourtRestraint & Activism
Judicial activism is loosely defined as decisions or judgements handed down by judges that take a broad interpretation of the constitution. It is a decision that is more of a reflection of how the judge thinks the law should be interpreted rather than how the law has or was intended to be interpreted. There are many examples of judicial activism; examples include the opinions of Sandra Day O’Connor in the Lynch v. Donnelly and the Wallace v. Jaffree trials. Sandra Day argues for the changing of the First Amendment’s ban on “establishment” of religion into a ban on “endorsement” of religion. Others include US v. Kinder where our congress passed legislation that would require a minimum sentence for persons caught distributing more than 10 grams of cocaine. Judge Leval used a weighing method suggested by the sentencing commission rather than the method required by congress. The different method used did not trigger the mandatory sentence whereas the congressional method would have.
Miranda v. Arizona is a very important activist decision that required police to inform criminal suspects of their rights before they could be interrogated. These rights include: the right to remain silent, that anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law, you have a right to an attorney, if you cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed to you be the court. In this case the Fifth Amendment’s right that a person may not be forced to incriminate one’s self was interpreted in an activist way as meaning that one must be aware of this right before on is interrogated by the police. Prior to this ruling it was common practice to force and coerce confessions from criminal suspects who did not know they had the right not to incriminate themselves.
Judicial restraint is loosely defined as decisions or judgements that take a narrow interpretation of the constitution. It reflects a respect for the law as it has been enacted by the Legislature. Rather than creating new laws from broad interpretations. For myself, it is somewhat harder to distinguish what judicial restraint is. An example of judicial restraint would be the 1996 case of Bowers v. Hardwick. Hardwick was charged with violating the Georgia statute of sodomy by committing a sexual act with another male in the bedroom of his home. He challenged his conviction in the Supreme Court. The key issues were that Supreme Court upheld his conviction stating that the Constitution does not give the right for homosexuals to engage in sodomy. The justices also felt that “there should be great resistance to expand the reach of the due process clauses to cover any new fundamental rights”. Whereas the Roe v. Wade decision stated that women have the right to privacy when in the constitution no right exist, the Bowers v. Hardwick decision stated that there is no part of the constitution that gives the right of sodomy by homosexuals.