Evolution of the Supreme Court

The nation's highest court dominates our politics. But it didn't start out so powerful. Here's everything you need to know:

How did the Founders view the court?
Framers devoted relatively little energy to the judiciary, leaving its powers mostly vague and undefined. Alexander Hamilton argued that the judiciary would be the "least dangerous'' branch,with the court's power resting in its prestige.  Supreme Court heard only four cases. when John Jay, the first chief justice, resigned becausethe court lacked "energy, weight, and dignity."

When did that change?
With John Marshall the fourth chief justice appointed in 1801, he began carving out a more prominent role. Marbury v. Madison (1803 Marshall asserted the court's power to strike down laws passed by Congress as unconstitutional as the  ".duty of the judicial department to say what the law is," It established  judicial review as a keystone of constitutional law.The court repeatedly held federal laws superior to state laws. T  "The constitution," an upset Jefferson wrote, "is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please."

Who succeeded Marshall?
After 34 years Marshall gave way to Roger B. Taney, who came from a family of slaveholding Maryland tobacco planters. Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), the court ruled against Dred Scott, an enslaved man from Missouri who sued for his freedom  Scott, a black  "...had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." It also ruled the federal government could not restrict slavery expansion striking down the Missouri Compromise of 1820.