Text and History Narratives

The Keystone of the Arch: The Text and History of Article III and the Constitution’s Promise of Access to Courts

When the Constitution was framed, the promise of access to the federal courts was at the heart of a new system of government accountable to the people.

Summary

When the Constitution was framed, the promise of access to the federal courts was at the heart of a new system of government accountable to the people. As John Marshall— soon to become our Nation’s greatest Chief Justice—observed, “[t]o what quarter will you look for protection from an infringement on the Constitution, if you will not give the power to the judiciary? There is no other body that can afford such a protection.” The federal judiciary, with the Supreme Court at its head, would be the “keystone of the arch,” establishing a binding rule of law for the nation. In Article III, the Framers created the federal judiciary as a co-equal branch of government vested with the power of expounding and enforcing the laws in cases and controversies. Today, the Framers’ constitutional vision is in shambles. Over the last several decades, conservative Justices on the Supreme Court have emasculated this fundamental constitutional principle, filling the United States Reports with arcane and impenetrable doctrines that do violence to the rule-of-law values at the Constitution’s core. Armed with this history, progressives have a chance to restore basic constitutional first principles that give Americans their day in court to redress legal wrongs and prevent abuse of power by the government. The story laid out in this Narrative shows why this is what the Constitution’s text and history requires.

CAC released The Keystone of the Arch at an event hosted at Georgetown Law School’s Supreme Court Institute on November 3, 2016.

More from Civil and Human Rights

Civil and Human Rights
March 23, 2021

OP-ED: In wake of Floyd, Taylor killings, should police have power to enter your home without a warrant?

USA Today
A nod from the Supreme Court in case that would give police right to search...
By: David H. Gans
Civil and Human Rights
March 29, 2021

When Women Speak: Feminist Rhetoric and the Law

RBG shifted the rhetorical boundaries of jurisprudence on a wide range of important issues from equal protection to reproductive rights. CAC’s President Elizabeth...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra, Professor Katie Gibson
Civil and Human Rights
March 24, 2021

CAC Alert: Caniglia v. Strom

SCOTUS is considering whether the “community caretaking” exception to the 4th Amendment’s warrant requirement should extend...
By: Miriam Becker-Cohen
Civil and Human Rights
March 12, 2021

SCOTUS Deep Dive: Home Searches, Roberts Dissents (PODCAST)

Bloomberg Law
Supreme Court justices will hear one of their latest Fourth Amendment arguments on March 24...
By: David H. Gans, By Jordan S. Rubin
Civil and Human Rights
March 4, 2021

#PurpleChairChat EXTRA: Discussing Netflix’s Amend series

Discussing Netflix’s docuseries Amend: The Fight for America, which explores the fight for equal rights in...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra, Karen Tumlin, Melissa Murray
Civil and Human Rights
March 1, 2021

RELEASE: CAC Endorses the Ending Qualified Immunity Act

WASHINGTON -- On the reintroduction today of the Ending Qualified Immunity Act by Congresswoman Ayanna...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra