DICK BAYNTON: The Supreme Court – Then and Now

Dick Baynton

John Jay College of Criminal Justice is a degree-conferring institution located in Manhattan that was established in 1954 and is part of the City College of New York. Its first class at COPS (College of Police Science) was admitted in 1965. John Jay, the college’s namesake was the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, served as Governor of New York and was one of the nation’s founding fathers.

The Supreme Court was authorized and established under the Judiciary Act of 1789 and was to be composed of six members. The actual number, set by Congress has been nine members almost from the start. The court convened for the first time at The Old Royal Exchange in New York City. There was not a case on the docket as John Jay assumed the position of Chief Justice on February 2, 1790.

From 1791 to 1801, the court met in Philadelphia’s City Hall. Chief Justice John Marshall led the court from 1801 to 1835. During this period, the justices met in Washington, D.C. for several weeks in February and March and lived together in a boarding house to avoid outside socializing. For six months of the year, the justices did ‘circuit’ duty in various states. Marshall worked in Richmond, his hometown. From 1819 to 1860, the court met in windowless chambers in the capitol, now restored and called The Old Supreme Court Chamber.

The New Supreme Court building located at 1 First Street was started in 1932 and completed in 1935 at a cost of just over $9 million. Architect Cass Gilbert had designed many large projects including the Woolworth Building in NYC.

It is important we build and occupy beautiful buildings but the decisions and policies that emanate from the people working inside is what counts. The judicial branch is one of our three important functions that (are supposed to) assure checks and balances to all things Executive (President and staff), Legislative (House of Representatives & Senate) and Judicial.

Although the decision was handed down 71 years ago, the Brown vs. Board of Education expunged the 1896 law that allowed certain racial segregation by the states. On May 7, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that equal opportunity in education must be universal throughout all the states. The (9-0) decision by the court was 14 pages in length and stressed the ‘Equal Protection Clause’ of Amendment 14 of The United States Constitution. Earl Warren, former governor of California was Chief Justice at the time.

In a more recent case, the Supremes, in a (4-4) one-sentence decision blocked an executive order issued by President Obama that would have provided a deportation reprieve to millions of illegal aliens. House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledged the tie vote that left the executive order without support by saying, “The Constitution is clear: The President is not permitted to write laws – only Congress is.”

A ruling was handed down in June of this year invalidating the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s determination that violated its ‘disparagement clause.’ The ruling assured free-speech protection for the ‘Slants’, an Asian-American rock band.

Justice Alito, writing about the unanimous decision by the court said, “This provision violates the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment. It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”  Far-reaching benefits afforded the use of The Cleveland Indians baseball logo called ‘Chief Wahoo’ and Dan Snyder’s Redskins football team name. Other sports teams and organizations using offensive names appear to be protected also. The current Chief Justice is John Roberts who was appointed by President Bush on September 29, 2005.

Are members of the United States Supreme Court absolutely apolitical? The answer is no, they are a distinguished group of legal scholars who interpret law and precedent differently in many cases. It is highly probable that staff in all government agencies at every level are divided politically and probably on issues such as immigration, race, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual preference.

The hope is that the majority of government decision-makers will prevail in all agencies by making decisions that uphold the world-renowned United States Constitution in spirit and in fact on behalf of the citizens of this great nation.