The White House
The White House (Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

One of the well-staged photo-ops of President Trump’s signing documents in the Oval Office projects an admiring, and obviously admired, President Andrew Jackson peering over the shoulder of his successor. Inasmuch as history is a powerful teacher and in light of the recently-twittered tensions concerning the operation of the judicial branch of government, it might be well to consider Jackson’s reputed comment about the “so-called” co-equal branch, rendered after an important early case and crisis in 1832.

Amidst the travail and scandal of the “Trail of Tears” treatment of America’s native cohabitants, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a checks-and-balances opinion in Worcester v. Georgia favoring the Cherokee Tribe. “Old Hickory’s” reputed reaction: “Marshall (the modernly-renowned early Chief Justice of the United States) has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.” The infamous quote may be apocryphal and rendered as a juicier version of the source comment by Jackson in a private letter to a friend that “the decision of the Supreme Court has fell still-born, and they find they cannot coerce Georgia to yield to its mandate.”

Either way, the authoritarian attitude echoes out of the admiringly situated portrait. It was not then and is not good governance now to show contempt for the judicial process and the judges charged by their own oaths to discharge it faithfully and responsibly.

Joseph Bellacosa
The writer served on the state Court of Appeals from 1987-2000