The Struggle for Power Between Congress and the Courts

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President Bush has turned up the heat on the Senate to accept his judicial nominees, last week accusing the Democrats in the Senate of stalling and "endangering the administration of justice in America." The Senate has only rejected one of the President's nominees, Charles Pickering, but Bush says his other nominees are waiting too long to get approval hearings.

The battles between Bush and the Senate have generally centered on the political ideologies: where a nominee stands on abortion rights and free speech issues and civil rights. But Yale Law professor Bruce Ackerman says that to focus on these ideological specific issues is to miss the most important question facing the court.

President Bush says he favors judges who are "strict constructionists" — meaning they only base their rulings on what is written in the Constitution. But today, Ackerman argues, to be a strict constructionist is to believe that the Congress should not have any powers to regulate parts of society outside of economic issues — those issues in their view should be determined by the states. A conservative shift in the federal courts could therefore actually change the balance of power away from Congress.

This hour, the centuries-old battle for control among the branches of government enters the 21st century. Is Congress' power in peril?


Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale Law School

Randy Barnett, Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Law, Boston University School of Law

Barney Frank, Massachusetts Congressman

This program aired on May 8, 2002.


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