I see the Supreme Court as intended to be the ultimate arbiter for constitutionality in the United States. I also think that it was intended to be that way. I know there are some schools of thought that the Supreme Court was never intended to have judicial review, and while I see the merits of that based on a few Jefferson quotes, ultimately I believe that it was intended. Alexander Hamilton seems to surmise as much in Federalist 78 and 80, as well as anti-federalist Robert Yates in anti-Federalist 78. There is also a Stanford study making a good case for it being in use long before the Marbury.
But I'm wondering if this is such a good idea. Many Supreme Court cases are decided 5-4, and after the case becomes fairly rigid precedent forever, with little chance of changing, although the court has certainly reversed itself, with over 100 reversals in the last 80 years. The most obvious example being the difference between Plessy v Ferguson in 1896 and Brown vs Board of Education in 1954. Still though, precedent is fairly likely to stand unless clearly wrong. What bothers me though, is that this near permanence of some of these decisions would be different if one judge retired during a Democrat's term instead of a Republican's or vice versa. Although there are a few David Souter's generally each president knows exactly what he's going to get when he appoints a judge. For instance if Ginsburg or Breyer had retired or died during Bush's presidency, we likely would've had a different opinion against the Health Care Mandate. If Scalia or Thomas had retired in 2009 we would've most likely had a different ruling in Citizen's United. Now we have these same types of problems in Congress, the Presidency, and state legislatures too. Sometimes one of those makes a bad decision. However, it is relatively easy to correct those. If the bad decision was unconstitutional the courts could strike it down, and if it was an otherwise bad decision the people have opportunities relatively frequently to correct them by voting other members in. For Supreme Court mistakes though, not only do you have to wait for the membership to change, which can take years because of their lifelong terms, you must go through the rigorous process of having a case brought to them and accepted by them, and hope that the argument is compelling enough that it overrules the precedent. Chances are that the average person believes the Supreme Court made at least one wrong decision recently between Citizens United and NFIB v. Sebelius among the other hundreds of cases the SCOTUS rules on, but that there will be no opportunity to change the decision any time soon, and possibly for decades.
I think Jefferson is correct when he says: "You seem ... to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps.... Their power [is] the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control."
So I do think there are some problems with the role of the SCOTUS. However, I'm not sure there's anything that can really be done to fix them. I can't think of a better system than the one we have now. I don't think letting individual states overrule Supreme Court cases is the best idea. Having potentially 50 different views on constitutionality with no way to enforce anything nationally if an individual state disagrees. I'm not really sure how to put a check on the power of the Supreme Court on constitutionality, without creating another unchecked body.
Do you agree that the SCOTUS is the ultimate arbiter of constitutionality?
Do you agree that it is a problem?
Is there actually away to solve the problem and make things better than they are now?