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What is the distinction between judicial review and judicial supremacy?

In 1608 Sir Edward Coke openly challenged the authority of King James I; stating that "the King in his own person cannot adjudge any case... but that this ought to be... adjudged in some Court of Justice, according to the law and custom of England." This was a time in which the king believed himself to be chosen by God. It was treasonous to suggest that anything could be above the king other than the Almighty himself.

Nearly two centuries later, a new country was being founded: The United States of America. Its founding fathers were disciples of the Enlightenment, declaring reason, science and liberty to be its highest values. Among the pantheon of philosophical inspiration for the American Constitution was Coke; the result of which was the establishment of a judicial system capable of ensuring the government could never become greater than the law. At the top of this system was the Supreme Court.

There is a clear distinction between judicial review and judicial supremacy. Judicial review is, to put it simply, what the Supreme Court does - judges cases where laws come into dispute, and where questions may be raised about constitutionality. Judicial supremacy alternatively is the power of the Supreme Court to be the final word, to be unquestionable as the guardians of the Constitution. Yet the two go hand in hand. It could be possible for judicial review to exist without judicial supremacy, but in this scenario the word of the court could be ignored, Congress would be able, if it so desired, to interpret the constitution in its own way. It is impossible in practice for one to exist without the other.

While perfectly legitimate questions may be raised about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court's powers, it would be very difficult otherwise to uphold the Constitution at all. The American political system has been built on the principle of checks and balances, in order to curb the power of governmental institutions; Congress curbs the power of the President, and the judiciary - though it may not have been intended this way in the Constitution - curbs the power of Congress. While there may be problems arising from these powers, they are a necessary part of upholding the Constitution.

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