Political Science Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

How does the judicial branch check the other branches?

Expert Answers info

Greg Jackson, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

bookM.A. from University of Massachusetts-Boston


calendarEducator since 2018

write1,815 answers

starTop subjects are History, Literature, and Law and Politics

The Judicial branch has the ability to check the Legislative branch and the Executive branch by interpreting laws and actions and determining whether or not they violate or conform to the Constitution. This mechanism is known as judicial review. If Congress passes a law or the President issues an executive order that a party feels is a violation of constitutional rights, they may sue. If the courts (an essential part of the Judicial branch) take up the case, they can then decide whether or not the law or order is constitutional. If the courts decide that it is in violation of the Constitution, then the law or order is struck down.

This is a powerful check on the other branches, especially when the decision is made by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, and its decisions are final. A Supreme Court decision can only be overridden by another Supreme Court decision or by the passage of a constitutional amendment. Both these circumstances are very rare and difficult to execute.

The ability of the courts to overturn the acts of the other two branches was first put into practice in 1803 with the case of Marbury v. Madison. This case established in practice the Judicial branch's power to overturn an act by the other branches which it finds unconstitutional.

The US Supreme Court also has the power to check the power of the states. Since state laws must conform to the laws of the US Constitution, the federal courts can override a state or local law if it is found to be in violation of federal law. A recent example of this is the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot limit the marriage rights of same-sex couples.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write35,413 answers

starTop subjects are History, Literature, and Social Sciences

The judicial branch checks the other branches of government by the fact that it is able to say that things they have done are unconstitutional.  When it does this, it prevents them from doing things that they are not allowed to do by the Constitution.

The Constitution sets various limits on what the government can do.  For example, the government may not make laws that infringe on freedom of religion.  However, it is possible for the legislative branch to make a law, or for the executive branch to write a rule, that does infringe on people’s freedom of religion.  In this case, the judicial branch is able to check the other branches by ruling that their action is unconstitutional and therefore has no force.

The judicial branch does not do this very often, but the fact that it can do so acts as a check on the elected branches of government, making them have to be careful of what they do.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial