November 2013 Bar Bulletin
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November 2013 Bar Bulletin

The U.S. Supreme Court: Between the Quote Marks

By Christina Schuck


In all of the opinions and dissents issued by the Supreme Court through the years, some quotes, for better or worse, stand out as classic.

The Duty and Province of the Supreme Court

Marbury v. Madison1 has been described as the "single most important decision in American constitutional law" because it established judicial authority to review the constitutionality of executive and legislative acts.2

At issue was William Marbury's commission as a justice of a peace. A day before the inauguration of his successor Thomas Jefferson, President John Adams nominated Marbury to be a justice of the peace. The Senate confirmed the nomination. Unfortunately for Marbury, his commission was not delivered and Jefferson instructed his Secretary of State, James Madison, to withhold undelivered commissions. Marbury filed suit, seeking a writ of mandamus to compel Madison to deliver the commission.

In short, the Court determined Marbury had a right to the commission and that the law afforded him a remedy, but that the section of the Judiciary Act that authorized the mandamus was unconstitutional.3 Importantly, the Court could rule this law unconstitutional because "[i]t is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is."4

Nearly 200 years later, in addition to determining what the law is, the Court also decided "What is Golf."5 Casey Martin, a disabled golfer, sued the PGA under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, when it refused to allow him to use a golf cart during qualifying events.

The Court ruled in Martin's favor, finding that the use of a golf cart does not fundamentally alter the nature of golf. In his dissent (cited as one of his most memorable and sarcastic),6 Justice Antonin Scalia stated:

It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme Court of the United States ... to decide What Is Golf. I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution ... fully expected that sooner or later the paths of golf and government, the law and the links, would once again cross, and that the judges of this august Court would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential question, for which their years of study in the law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer, we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not a "fundamental" aspect of golf.7

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