Two hundred years ago, in the landmark case of Cohens v. Virginia (1821), the future of our Constitution, the aspirations of national unity, and the status and role of the federal judiciary itself, were before the Supreme Court. We have seldom seen in one case the coalescence of so many issues fundamental to the integrity of our constitutional system.

The stakes for America could not have been higher. If the Supreme Court could not exercise appellate authority over state court decisions, then each state would be free to interpret federal legislation and the Constitution as it wished. In theory, there might be as many interpretations of the Constitution as there were states. Patently, national unity would be but a pipe dream.

David Adler, Ph.D., is a noted author who lectures nationally and internationally on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and Presidential power. His scholarly writings have been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts by both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress. Adler’s column is supported in part through a grant from Wyoming Humanities funded by the “Why it Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation” initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Adler can be reached at

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