Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Congress & Courts:
Keeping the Balance

Printer Friendly (PDF)


Congress and the Courts balance each other. Congress makes laws, but the Courts interpret them. The Supreme Court decides if a law fits the meaning of the Constitution.

When you go to a baseball game there are several umpires on the field and behind home plate. These umpires did not make the rules for playing the game of baseball, but they are given the duty to decide what the rules mean in a special case. They are like judges. They interpret the rules as they see their original meaning. They are the last word. Judges in our court system are like these umpires. They interpret the rules. The court applies the rules of the Constitution to the nation's business.

Congress can pass "necessary and proper laws." But what is necessary? What is proper? The Supreme Court may need to decide in special situations.

Congress cannot interfere with the freedoms spelled out in the Bill of Rights. It can't punish a person for something that was not a crime when he did it. Any citizen can go to a court to protect his civil liberties. The citizen may even go to the Supreme Court to get a final verdict.

Sometimes, the Constitution does not cover a law that the people want. The people can then vote directly by states to add a special section to the Constitution. This is called an amendment. Back in 1895, the Supreme Court would not let Congress put a tax of two cents a dollar on everyone's wages, (money people earned). So later, an income tax amendment was added to the Constitution.

QUESTIONS: 

1. Write in your own words how the Supreme Court checks Congress.

 2. What happens when the people want a law that is not covered by the Constitution?

 3. What amendment would you like to see added to the constitution? Support your opinion with concrete facts and reasoning.