When Supreme Court justices decide a case, they can utilize one of two theories: judicial restraint or political activism. Judicial restraint is where the court only decides a case based on precedent without inserting any political opinions. Many controversial decisions of the court occur when justices decide to overturn laws that are considered unconstitutional or when the justices force a policy change. Some of these cases essentially make new laws when attempting to change the old ones. Many people believe that the court does not have a right to make new laws; this concept has become known as legislating from the bench, or political activism. This study supports the premise that the Supreme Court truly had the “right” to make such decisions and show how those decisions have changed the court system.
Using five landmark Supreme Court Cases: Brown v. Board of Education, Griswold v. Connecticut, Bowers v. Hardwick, Lawrence v. Texas and Berghuis v. Thompkins, the theory of political activism is reviewed and explained. Overall, many decisions made using political activism have benefited the public. While the Supreme Court may not have been explicitly given the right to use political activism, neither were they prohibited from it. It is impossible to believe that any individual, judicial officer or not, could successfully ignore the changes of the political climate in order to make a decision.
Semester/Year of Award
Sara L. Zeigler
Restricted Access Thesis
Government and Economics
Department Name when Degree Awarded
Sipes, Alexandra J., "Judicial Restraint v. Political Activism: Landmark Cases that Changed the Courts" (2012). Honors Theses. 7.