Judicial Activism: Definition, Cases, Pros & Cons

Judicial Activism: Definition, Cases, Pros & Cons
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  • 0:00 Definition Of Judicial…
  • 0:45 Case Example: Roe V. Wade
  • 1:55 Pros And Cons Of…
  • 2:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

After you finish this lesson, you will understand what constitutes judicial activism. Moreover, you will review a key case involving judicial activism. Finally, you will examine the pros and cons of judicial activism.

Definition of Judicial Activism

Imagine that your friends, Aaron and Brad, are having an argument about what to make for dinner. Aaron wants steak, while Brad wants Chinese food. The two cannot decide, so they ask you to make the decision. You really want Chinese food, so when you make your decision, you choose that option. Instead of making a neutral choice, you decided based on your own preferences. This is the very concept behind judicial activism.

Judicial activism can best be described as rulings that are guided by the personal decisions or political interests of the individual judge. For example, instead of strictly applying the law, the judge makes a determination which includes his own stance on the issues of the case.

Case Example: Roe v. Wade

There are significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions that are believed to be examples of judicial activism. One good example is Roe v. Wade. In this case, the Supreme Court determined that a Texas law criminalizing abortion was unconstitutional.

The Texas law indicated that abortion constituted a criminal act unless it was for the purpose of saving the mother's life. The majority of the Supreme Court decided that an individual's right to privacy includes the right to have an abortion. The Court also determined that whether a woman should have a late trimester abortion was best left to the doctors. Here, the court included some medical statements. Many critics believe that Roe v. Wade was the quintessential judicial activism case because the judges were basically making the law on abortion, as opposed to strictly interpreting the law.

To begin, critics claim that the court read the right to an abortion into the right to privacy. Furthermore, some say that the Court stretched the law because the medical statements and medical advice are not included in the law. Thus, these facts should not appear in a legal decision. Ultimately, critics claim the Court deviated from simply interpreting the law and instead basing it on their own beliefs.

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