Supreme Interpreters

It Means What It Says

That’s obvious, right? Freedom of speech means you have… um... freedom of speech. And a cruel and unusual punishment is a punishment that’s… well… cruel. And unusual. For example...


Maybe it’s not that easy to figure out what the Constitution is really saying. So how can we know for sure? America has a group of judicial superheroes whose job is to decide exactly what the Constitution means. These are the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. When there’s a dispute over what the Constitution really means, the Supreme Court has the final say.

Follow the link and read the definition of judicial review. Compare it to this quote from Chief Justice John Marshall, who was on the Supreme Court from 1801—1835.

It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. 

— Chief Justice John Marshall, from Marbury v. Madison (1803)

Response Question: 
  • What does judicial review allow the Supreme Court to do?
  • Why do you think the Supreme Court needs to be able to interpret the Constitution? (Hint: Think about how difficult it must be to apply the Constitution “to particular cases.”)
Response not required