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Because it lacks the legitimacy and accountability that come with election and the power that derives from the sword and the purse, the Supreme Court’s authority rests on public acceptance of its status as a nonpartisan arbiter of the law.

I hazard that "purse" refers to monetary influence and that 'sword' = might and main? But why 'sword'?

Source: P301, America on Trial, Alan Dershowitz

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    Of the three branches of govt., the Legislative controls the purse, the Executive controls the sword, and the Judicial should be immune to the influence of money or power as they make their decisions. – user66974 Jul 3 '14 at 7:51
  • @Josh61 +1 Source? – Kris Jul 3 '14 at 10:17
  • see also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metonomy – nohat Jul 3 '14 at 16:54
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about the interpretation of legalese, not English. – tchrist Jul 7 '14 at 18:21
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As Josh61 indicates in his comments beneath the OP's question, Congress (the legislative branch) is empowered under the U.S. Constitution to pass laws to raise revenue for the federal government. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution reads in part:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States...

This authority has given rise to the metaphorical idea that Congress possesses "the power of the (federal) purse."

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution reads in part:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States...

Authority over military affairs is sometimes termed "the power of the sword," and in the United States it resides (with some limitations) in the executive branch of the government, headed by the President.

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One explanation is that the phrase is ultimately an allusion to Jesus sending out the Apostles in Luke 22:36, where he tells them to take their purse, and if they don't have a sword, to sell the cloak and buy one. Purse is, indeed, monetary influence, as "sword" is power of force.

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Because it lacks the legitimacy and accountability that come with election and the power that derives from the sword and the purse, the Supreme Court’s authority rests on public acceptance of its status as a nonpartisan arbiter of the law.

  1. The Supreme Court justices are not elected, so they lack the legitimacy and accountability that come with election.

  2. And they do not have either military or economic power.

What does their authority stem from, if not #1 and #2? Simply from a general acceptance by the public of their position as nonpartisan judges.

That is what the quote says. The sword refers to physical might/force: military or police power. The purse refers to economic power: influence from owning/controlling great wealth.

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