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.