One of the most important developments in twentieth century legal philosophy, Rawls’s theory of “justice as fairness” generated volumes of commentary and dispute among legal and political theorists. Rawls’s later work examines the role of the Supreme Court in a hypothetical, morally just society.
In his 1971 treatise A Theory of Justice, John Rawls described a just society based on two principles: First, an individual’s liberties should be curtailed only at the point where another’s liberties are infringed upon; and second, inequalities in positions of economic and social power are acceptable as long as the inequalities are advantageous to the society and the positions are equally available to all.
Rawls’s second book, Political Liberalism (1993), addressed what Rawls had come to see as problems with his first book. Political Liberalism discussed more specifically the role of the highest court in a constitutional democracy. Ideally, the highest court interprets the law embodied in the Constitution, representing the will and power of the people. The court functions as “the exemplar of public reason;” as such, it is the only institution obligated to consistently conform its decisions to constitutional principles. The court is bound to give the best interpretation of the law possible in light of constitutional language and historical and legal precedents, and individual justices must be impartial in their interpretation of the law.