Separation of Powers in Action – U.S. v. Alvarez
The U.S. Constitution establishes three separate but equal branches of government: the legislative branch (makes the law), the executive branch (enforces the law), and the judicial branch (interprets the law). The Framers structured the government in this way to prevent one branch of government from becoming too powerful, and to create a system of checks and balances.
Under this system of checks and balances, there is an interplay of power among the three branches. Each branch has its own authority, but also must depend on the authority of the other branches for the government to function.
U.S. v. Alvarez is an excellent example of how the three branches each exercise their authority.
In a Nutshell
- The Legislative Branch – Congress – passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, punishing those who misrepresent that they have received high military honors.
- The Judicial Branch – the Supreme Court of the United States – ruled in 2012(link is external) that the Act was unconstitutional because it infringed on the right to free speech protected by the First Amendment.
- The Executive Branch – the Pentagon and the President – took action within a month of the Supreme Court’s decision establishing a government-funded national database of medal citations – phased in over time – to enable verification of military honors.
- The Legislative Branch – Less than a year after Alvarez was decided, Congress responded with legislation that sought to remedy the constitutional problems in the 2005 legislation, which the Supreme Court decided in U.S. v. Alvarez were in violation of the First Amendment.
The new legislation continues the prohibition on false claims of military honors in instances outside the protection of the First Amendment. However, the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 narrowed the original legislation in the following ways:
- Repealed the prohibition against wearing such awards without legal authorization.
- Limited the prohibition to wearers who act “fraudulently” and “with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit.”
- Limited the prohibition to the Congressional Medal of Honor and certain, specified decorations or medals.
But the fact remains that the Judicial Branch is not a separate part of government as expressed by the other two branches. The Judicial branch is dependent on the the other two branches for employment and advancement, therefore making the Judicial Branch a dependent branch of government. Until this is remedied, the government is in violation of the Separation of Powers Restoration Act. The Separation of Powers Restoration Act amends the Administrative Procedure Act to require that courts must decide for themselves “all relevant questions of law, including the interpretation of constitutional and statutory provisions, and rules made by agencies.” How can the courts do that if they know that advancement is judged on how they rule on cases, especially politically motivated cases. This interference is akin to coercion and can become problematic when courts rule along party lines. The current Chief Justice is perfect example of a person that has received retribution for voting his conscience. While we all feel every Justice has earned their position, their are going to be some very important questions asked and the weight and influence of politics is going to weigh heavily on what should be easy answers and that is completely unfair for the Justices. Friends might be lost, family might lose some of their luster in the eyes of other family members, all because of politics, something that is not part of the Judicial branch.
The remedy is simple, every branch chooses their own employees, that should also go for the Judicial branch. The Supreme Court should be the ones to nominate the next Supreme Court Justice, with the other branches being relegated to the confirmation process.
But I will say hahaha… because while the remedy is simple, the egos on people will not allow themselves to do the right thing and fix the apparent conflict of interest and give up power even when it benefits the nation as a whole.
Let me also add that all the Justices were rated highly by the American Bar Association, a peer review that is trustworthy and are pillars of their profession and this is not a criticism of them personally but how politics tries to influence every facet of life and we desperately need a branch of the government that is apolitical so we can get definitive answers that would calm the storm before it becomes a hurricane of political unrest, like what’s happening now.