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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Essay on Judicial Review and Judicial Precedent

Essay on Judicial Review and Judicial Precedent

The concept of Judicial Review was established in the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison (5 US 137) where the Supreme Court declared that it had the power to review any act of the Executive Branch, or any of its agencies or instrumentalities, and the laws passed by the Legislative Branch.  If these acts or laws are contrary to the provisions of the Constitution then it becomes the solemn duty of the Judiciary to declare this act of the president or law of the legislatures as unconstitutional.

The power of judicial review is vested not only with the Supreme Court.  Even the lower courts, generally, have the power to test the validity of the acts of the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch in the light o its conformity with the constitution.  This power is made apparent in the case of Wilson v. Layne (526 US 603) when the petitioners filed a suit against police officers for money damages contending that their act violated their right under the Fourth Amendment.   The main issues in this case were whether the Fourth Amendment right was violated and whether the police officers were entitled to qualified immunity.

The District Court initially ruled in favor of Wilson declaring that the police officers were not entitled to qualified immunity which was reversed by the Court of Appeals when the police officers filed their appeal.  The Supreme Court made its final ruling declaring that though there was a violation of the Fourth Amendment right the police officers were however entitled to qualified immunity because the right of the petitioners in the instant case was not clearly established.    

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B. Judicial Precedent
 Judicial precedent on the other hand, refers to a principle that is based on the concept of stare decisis which literally means that “let the decision stand.”  Under the principle of stare decisis judges are obligated to follow the precedent.  If a judge has decided a case and declared a particular rule then it becomes his duty when a similar case comes up to decide the case according to the same rule he promulgated in the first case.   Thus, when courts decide a case they should take into consideration whether it a similar case with similar issues and questions of law have already been decided by the court. The purpose behind this principle is to ensure consistency in the decisions of the Supreme Court.  The concept of stare decisis is important because it gives stability to the judicial system of a country.  The people will know what rule is applicable if ever there is a similar case.  However, the principle is not absolute.  The Supreme Court has found it necessary to overturn its previous decisions when it is clearly erroneous.

In the case of Wilson v. Layne, the Supreme Court in determining whether the police officers may invoke their qualified immunity to escape their liability for damages referred to the doctrine enunciated in Anderson v. Creighton (483 US 735).  In the Anderson case, the Supreme Court said that a government official performing discretionary function may be entitled to qualified immunity provided the conduct “does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”  It added that it depends on the “objective legal reasonableness of the action, assessed in light of the legal rules that were `clearly established' at the time it was taken." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U. S. 635, 639 (1987).  Using the definition in the Anderson case of the term clearly established, the Supreme Court in this case ruled that the right of the petitioners was not clearly established.  As such, the police officers may invoke qualified immunity.

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