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The Supreme Court The Supreme Court - Image of hands holding a gavel.
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Glossary

On the history of the Court's ability to enforce its decisions

Transcript
One of the great blessings of the system of government created by the framers has been that by and large the public and the other branches of government in the United States have followed and respected the holdings of the Supreme Court of the United States, have applied them even if they might not personally have agreed. One of the prime examples of that is Brown versus Board of Education, the case that held that states in providing public benefits, such as a public school education, may not discriminate on the basis of the color of one's skin, may not deny for instance African American children the benefits of being in a public school with non African American students because that isn't equal protection of the law. Now, when that decision was handed down President Eisenhower did not, I think, agree with it. And yet he enforced it by sending federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to make sure that the children could enter the public school in that state where they were being barred at the door. And there are only a couple of examples in all of the history of our country where presidents did not enforce some relevant applicable decision of the Supreme Court. One was President Andrew Jackson who, in the case involving the Cherokee Indians that was handed down by the United States Supreme Court saying that Indians owned certain property in the state, President Jackson said the Supreme Court made its decision now let them enforce it. And he said that very cynically because he knew that the Supreme Court had no power of enforcement other than the power of persuasion, the ability to persuade the other branches that yes, that must be followed. And the result was disaster for the Cherokee Indians. He did not enforce the judgment of the Court in the case. And another example was beloved President Abraham Lincoln who, during the Civil War, without the consent of Congress at the time because Congress wasn't in session, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Now that's a constitutional right of someone being held in custody to bring some petition before a court and say I'm being held unlawfully. And President Lincoln suspended that for a time during the Civil War.


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