judicial review | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

Judicial review refers to the power of the Supreme Court (and other appellate courts) to determine the constitutionality of legislative enactments.

Let’s start from the beginning. Judicial review is a process used within the criminal justice system. It’s not about deciding if someone is guilty or innocent. Rather, it’s about making sure that the rules and actions of the government match up with our highest law – the Constitution.

Courts, especially the Supreme Court, have this special power. They can review the laws passed by Congress or actions by the President. Then, they decide whether they follow the Constitution.

Importance of Judicial Review

Above all, this is important for keeping a balance of power. Our government is made up of three branches – the legislative (Congress), the executive (President), and the judicial (courts). This is known as the separation of powers. Each branch has its own responsibilities and powers. It is a key power of the judicial branch.

The Founding Fathers wanted to avoid giving too much power to any one branch. So, they designed the Constitution to ensure a balance. They did not want a repeat of what they had experienced under British rule. Consequently, judicial review acts as a check on the powers of the other branches.

Judicial Review in Action

Judicial review usually begins when a case comes before a court. Someone might challenge a law or a government action, claiming it goes against the Constitution. The court then looks at the law or action in question.

For example, if Congress passes a law that seems to limit free speech, someone might bring a lawsuit. They would argue that the law violates the First Amendment. The courts, through judicial review, would then decide if the law is constitutional.

The Landmark Case of Marbury v. Madison

The principle of judicial review was established in the landmark case Marbury v. Madison in 1803. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that it had the power to strike down laws, statutes, and some government actions that violate the Constitution. This case became the cornerstone of judicial review and greatly expanded the power of the courts.

Limits of Judicial Review

Even though this is a powerful tool, it’s not used lightly. It respects the fact that lawmakers have been elected to make laws. Also, the courts don’t go out looking for laws to review. A case must come before them.

After all, the judicial branch, like all branches of government, has its limits. The Constitution ensures that no single branch becomes too powerful. Accordingly, the checks and balances between the branches, including the power of review, help maintain our democracy.

In conclusion, judicial review plays a critical role in our system of government. It ensures that our laws and actions stay in line with the Constitution, helping to balance power between the three branches of government.

Learn More

On This Site

On Other Sites


[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 06/12/2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.