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Supreme Court of the United States

 
The Supreme Court
of the United States
The Court
Main Article  · Decisions
Process  · History  · Building
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
John Paul Stevens · Antonin Scalia
Anthony Kennedy · David Souter
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Retired Associate Justice
Sandra Day O'Connor
All members
By Court · By seat · By time in office
All nominations
Unsuccessful nominations
Court demographics
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The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest judicial body in the United States and leads the judicial branch of the United States federal government.

The court consists of nine Justices: the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices. The Justices are nominated by the President and confirmed with the "advice and consent" of the Senate. Appointed to serve for life, they can be removed only by resignation, or by impeachment and subsequent conviction.

The Supreme Court is the only court established by the United States Constitution (in Article III); all other federal courts are created by Congress:

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

The Supreme Court holds both original and appellate jurisdiction, with its appellate jurisdiction accounting for most of the Court's caseload. The court's original jurisdiction is narrowly focused, as defined in Article III, Section 2 ("In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction"). The court's appellate jurisdiction encompasses "all cases" within the scope of Article III, but is subject to limitation by acts of Congress under the Exceptions Clause in Article III and by the discretion of the Court.

The Supreme Court meets in Washington, D.C., in the United States Supreme Court building. The Court is sometimes referred to by the abbreviations SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) and USSC (United States Supreme Court). The Court's yearly terms usually start on the first Monday in October and finish sometime during the following June or July. Each term consists of alternating two week intervals. During the first interval, the court is in session ('sitting') and hears cases, and during the second interval, the court is recessed to consider and write opinions on cases they have heard.

Contents

History

Main article: History of the Supreme Court of the United States
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The History of the Supreme Court is frequently described in terms of the Chief Justices who have presided over it.

Initially, during the tenures of Chief Justices Jay, Rutledge, and Ellsworth (1789–1801), the Court lacked a home of its own and any real prestige.

That changed forever during the Marshall Court (1801–1835), which declared the Court to be the supreme arbiter of the Constitution (see Marbury v. Madison), and made a number of important rulings which gave shape and substance to the Constitutional balance of power between the Federal government (referred to at the time as the "general" government) and the states. But Martin v. Hunter's Lessee showed the limits of that federal power—although the U.S. High Court declared itself supreme over the Virginia state court, it had a difficult time enforcing its judgment in a hostile state. The Marshall Court ended the practice of each judge issuing his opinion seriatim, a remnant of British tradition, and instead one majority opinion of the Court was issued. The Marshall Court also saw Congress impeach a sitting Justice, Samuel Chase, who was acquitted. This impeachment was one piece of the power struggle between the Jeffersonians and the Federalists after the election of 1800 and the subsequent change in power. The failure to remove Chase is thought to signal the recognition by Congress of judicial independence.

The Taney Court (1836–1864) made a number of important rulings, such as Sheldon v. Sill, which held that while Congress may not limit the subjects the Supreme Court may hear, the Constitution does not so restrain it where lower courts are concerned. However, it is primarily remembered for its ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford, the case which may have helped precipitate the Civil War. In the years following the Civil War, the Chase, Waite, and Fuller courts (1864–1910) interpreted the new civil war amendments to the Constitution, and developed the doctrine of substantive due process (Lochner v. New York; Adair v. United States). Under the White and Taft courts (1910–1930), the substantive due process doctrine reached its first apogee (Adkins v. Children's Hospital), and the Court held that the 14th Amendment applied some provisions of the Bill of Rights to the states (Gitlow v. New York).

During the Hughes, Stone, and Vinson courts (1930–1953), the court gained its own accommodation and radically changed its interpretation of the Constitution in order to facilitate the New Deal (West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish), giving an expansive reading to the powers of the Federal Government. The Warren Court (1953–1969) made a number of alternately celebrated and controversial rulings expanding the application of the Constitution to civil liberties, leading a renaissance in substantive due process. It held that segregation was unconstitutional (Brown v. Board of Education), that the Constitution protects a general right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut), that schools cannot have official prayer (Engel v. Vitale) or mandatory Bible readings (Abington School District v. Schempp), dramatically increased the scope of the doctrine of incorporation (Mapp v. Ohio; Miranda v. Arizona), read an equal protection clause into the Fifth Amendment (Bolling v. Sharpe), held that the states may not apportion a chamber of their legislatures in the manner in which the United States Senate is apportioned (Reynolds v. Sims), and held that the Constitution requires active compliance (Gideon v. Wainwright).

The Burger Court (1969–1986) ruled that abortion was a constitutional right (Roe v. Wade), reached muddled and controversial rulings on affirmative action (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke) and campaign finance regulation (Buckley v. Valeo), and that the death penalty was unconstitutional (Furman v. Georgia) and then later that it was not unconstitutional (Gregg v. Georgia).

The Rehnquist Court (1986–2005) narrowed the focus of the private right of action, the right of labor unions to picket (Lechmere Inc. v. NLRB) and of Roe v. Wade (Planned Parenthood v. Casey) but dramatically circumscribed the ability of states to regulate abortion (Stenberg v. Carhart), gave sweeping meaning to ERISA pre-emption (Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., Egelhoff v. Egelhoff) thereby denying plaintiffs access to state court with the consequence of limiting compensation for tort like harm to medical patients covered by employer plans to very circumscribed remedies (Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, CIGNA Healthcare of Texas Inc. v. Calad) and began an instauration of federalism, limiting the scope of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause (United States v. Lopez; United States v. Morrison).

The Roberts Court (2005-present) began with the confirmation and swearing in of John Roberts on September 29, 2005, and is the currently presiding court.

Composition

Size of the court

The Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States as of 2007.  Top row (left to right): Stephen G. Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Samuel A. Alito.  Bottom row (left to right): Anthony M. Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Antonin G. Scalia, and David H. Souter.
The Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States as of 2007. Top row (left to right): Stephen G. Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Samuel A. Alito. Bottom row (left to right): Anthony M. Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Antonin G. Scalia, and David H. Souter.

The United States Constitution does not specify the size of the Supreme Court; instead, Congress has the power to fix the number of Justices. Originally, the total number of Justices was set at six by the Judiciary Act of 1789. As the country grew geographically, the number of Justices steadily increased to correspond with the growing number of judicial circuits. The court was expanded to seven members in 1807, nine in 1837 and ten in 1863. In 1866, however, Congress wished to deny President Andrew Johnson any Supreme Court appointments, and therefore passed the Judicial Circuits Act, which provided that the next three Justices to retire would not be replaced; thus, the size of the Court would eventually reach seven by attrition. Consequently, one seat was removed in 1866 and a second in 1867. By the Circuit Judges Act of 1869, the number of Justices was again set at nine (the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices), where it has remained ever since. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to expand the Court (see Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937); his plan would have allowed the President to appoint one new, additional justice for every justice who reached the age of seventy but did not retire from the bench, until the Court reached a maximum size of fifteen justices. Ostensibly, this was to ease the burdens of the docket on the elderly judges, but it was widely believed that the President's actual purpose was to add Justices who would favor his New Deal policies, which had been regularly ruled unconstitutional by the Court. This plan, referred to often as the Court Packing Plan, failed in Congress. The Court, however, moved from its opposition to Roosevelt's New Deal programs, rendering the President's effort moot. In any case, Roosevelt's long tenure in the White House allowed him to appoint eight Justices to the Supreme Court and promote one Associate Justice to Chief Justice.

Nomination, confirmation and tenure of Justices

Article II of the Constitution provides the power to appoint Justices belongs to the President, acting with the "advice and consent" of the Senate. As a general rule, Presidents nominate individuals who broadly share their ideological views. However, nominees whose views are perceived as extreme may be blocked by the Senate (see List of Failed Nominations to the Supreme Court of the United States). In many cases, a Justice's decisions may be contrary to what the nominating President anticipated. A famous instance was Chief Justice Earl Warren; President Eisenhower expected him to be a conservative judge, but his decisions are arguably among the most liberal in the Court's history. Eisenhower later called the appointment "the biggest damn fool mistake I ever made"[1].

While the President may nominate anyone (there are no qualifications listed in the Constitution regarding prior legal or judicial experience, nor are there any exclusions of foreign-born nominees), the "advice and consent" of the Senate is required for appointment. The confirmation process often attracts considerable attention from special-interest groups, many of which lobby senators to confirm or to reject. The Senate Judiciary Committee conducts hearings, questioning nominees to determine their suitability. At the close of confirmation hearings, the Committee membership vote on whether or not the nominee is qualifed to be confirmed before the entire Senate. If the Committee votes to recommend that the nomination be confirmed, it proceeds to the full Senate. Alternatively, if a majority of the membership disapprove of the nomination but still believe it should be considered by the full Senate, they can advance the nomination with an adverse report.

If the committee reports out the nomination, the whole Senate considers it; a simple majority vote is required to confirm or to reject a nominee. Rejections are relatively uncommon; the Senate has explicitly rejected only twelve Supreme Court nominees in its history. The most recent rejection of a nominee by vote of the full Senate came in 1987, when the Senate refused to confirm Robert Bork. In 1991, Clarence Thomas's nomination was hampered by allegations of sexual harassment by a former colleague, but the Senate eventually confirmed him by a slim majority vote of 52-48.

Not everyone nominated by the President has received a floor vote in the Senate. Although Senate rules do not allow a negative vote in committee to block a Supreme Court nomination, a nominee may be filibustered once debate on his nomination has begun in the full Senate. A filibuster indefinitely prolongs the debate thereby preventing a final vote on the nominee. It is also possible for the President to withdraw a nominee's name at any time before the actual confirmation vote occurs. This usually happens when the President feels that the nominee has little chance of being confirmed. Most recently, President George W. Bush granted a request by Harriet Miers to withdraw her 2005 nomination before even a committee hearing had been scheduled, citing Miers' concerns about Senate requests during her confirmation process for access to internal Executive Branch documents resulting from her position as White House Counsel. Prior to that, President Ronald Reagan in 1987 withdrew the name of Douglas H. Ginsburg soon after the announcement of his nomination because of allegations of marijuana use.

While senators may attempt to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee in an attempt to thwart confirmation, no nomination for Associate Justice has ever been filibustered. However, President Lyndon Johson's nomination of sitting Associate Justice Abe Fortas to succeed Earl Warren as Chief Justice was successfully filibustered in 1968.

Until the 1980s, the approval process of Justices was frequently quick. From the Truman through Nixon administrations, Justices were typically approved within one month. From the Reagan administration through the current administration of George W. Bush, however, the process took much longer. Some speculate this is because of the increasingly political role Justices are said to play.[1]

When the Senate is in recess, the President may make a temporary appointment without the Senate's advice and consent. Such a recess appointee to the Supreme Court holds office only until the end of the next Senate session (at most, less than two years). To continue to serve thereafter and be compensated for his or her service, the nominee must be confirmed by the Senate. Of the two Chief Justices and six Associate Justices who have received recess appointments, only Chief Justice John Rutledge was not subsequently confirmed for a full term. No president since Dwight Eisenhower has made a recess appointment to the Supreme Court and the practice has become highly controversial even when applied to lower federal courts.

The Constitution provides that Justices "shall hold their Offices during good Behavior" (unless appointed during a Senate recess). The term "good behavior" is interpreted to mean life tenure. However, Justices may resign, retire, or be removed by impeachment and conviction by congressional vote (the last has never occurred; the only Justice ever impeached, Samuel Chase, was acquitted by the Senate and not removed from office). On average, a vacancy arises every two years; however, long stretches without any vacancies occur from time to time. For instance, no vacancy arose for the eleven years between Stephen Breyer's appointment in 1994 and Chief Justice William Rehnquist's death in 2005.

The Supreme Court's jurisprudence is often evaluated with respect to the service of a particular Chief Justice. Thus, for example, the Court between 1969 and 1986 is referred to as the "Burger Court" (for Chief Justice Warren E. Burger) and the Court between 1986 and 2005 is referred to as the "Rehnquist Court" (for Chief Justice Rehnquist).

Other functions

Under the Judiciary Act of 1789, each Justice was required to "ride circuit," or to travel within the assigned circuit and consider cases alongside local judges. This practice, however, encountered opposition from many Justices, who complained about the difficulty of travel. Moreover, several individuals opposed it on the grounds that a Justice could not be expected to be impartial in an appeal if he had previously decided the same case while riding circuit. Circuit riding was abolished in 1891. Now, the duty of a Supreme Court Justice in this regard is generally limited to hearing emergency petitions in the relevant circuit and some other routine tasks like addressing certain requests for extensions of time. The Justice assigned to a given circuit is known within that circuit as "the Circuit Justice" and may, but in practice almost never does, sit as a judge of that circuit. A Circuit Justice takes precedence over the Chief Judge of the circuit when a Justice decides to sit.

The Chief Justice is usually assigned to the District of Columbia Circuit, the Federal Circuit and the Fourth Circuit (which surrounds the District of Columbia); each Associate Justice is assigned to one or two judicial circuits.

After Associate Justice Alito's appointment, circuits were assigned as follows[2]:

  • For the D.C. Circuit, John G. Roberts, Jr.
  • For the First Circuit, David H. Souter
  • For the Second Circuit, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • For the Third Circuit, David H. Souter
  • For the Fourth Circuit, John G. Roberts, Jr.
  • For the Fifth Circuit, Antonin G. Scalia
  • For the Sixth Circuit, John Paul Stevens
  • For the Seventh Circuit, John Paul Stevens
  • For the Eighth Circuit, Samuel A. Alito, Jr.
  • For the Ninth Circuit, Anthony M. Kennedy
  • For the Tenth Circuit, Stephen G. Breyer
  • For the Eleventh Circuit, Clarence Thomas
  • For the Federal Circuit, John G. Roberts, Jr.

The circuit assignments frequently, but do not always and need not, reflect the geographic regions where the assigned Justices served as judges or practitioners before joining the Supreme Court. Four of the current Justices are assigned to circuits on which they once sat as circuit judges: Chief Justice Roberts (D.C. Circuit), Justice Souter (First Circuit), Justice Stevens (Seventh Circuit), and Justice Kennedy (Ninth Circuit). Furthermore, Justices Thomas and Ginsburg are assigned to the circuits that include their home states (the Eleventh and Second Circuits, respectively).

Current membership

The current Justices of the United States Supreme Court, in order of seniority, are:

Name Photo Date of birth Age Home state Appt. by Conf. vote First day Prior positions
John Roberts (Chief Justice) Roberts January 27, 1955 51 Maryland G.W. Bush 78-22 September 29, 2005 Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (2003–2005); Private practice (1993–2003); Principal Deputy Solicitor General (1989–1993); Private practice (1986–1989); Associate Counsel to the President (1982–1986); Special Assistant to the Attorney General (1981–1982)
John Paul Stevens Steven April 20, 1920 86 Illinois Ford 98-0 December 19, 1975 Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (1970–1975); Private practice (1948–1970); Lecturer, University of Chicago Law School (1950–1954); Lecturer, Northwestern University School of Law (1954–1958)
Antonin Scalia Scalia March 11, 1936 70 Virginia Reagan 98-0 September 26, 1986 Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (1982–1986); Professor, University of Chicago Law School (1977–1982); Assistant Attorney General (1974–1977); Professor, University of Virginia School of Law (1967–1974)
Anthony Kennedy Kennedy July 23, 1936 70 California Reagan 97-0 February 18, 1988 Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (1975–1988); Professor, McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific (1965–1988); Private practice (1963–1975)
David Souter Souter September 17, 1939 67 New Hampshire G.H.W. Bush 90-9 October 9, 1990 Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (1990–1990); Associate Justice, New Hampshire Supreme Court (1983–1990); Associate Justice, New Hampshire Superior Court (1978–1983); Attorney General of New Hampshire (1976–1978); Deputy Attorney General of New Hampshire (1971–1976); Assistant Attorney General of New Hampshire (1968–1971); Private practice (1966–1968).
Clarence Thomas Thomas June 23, 1948 58 Georgia G.H.W. Bush 52-48 October 23, 1991 Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (1990–1991); Chairman, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (1982–1990); Legislative Assistant for Missouri Senator John Danforth (1979–1981); employed by Monsanto Inc. (1977– 1979); Assistant Attorney General of Missouri under State Attorney General John Danforth (1974–1977)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Ginsburg March 15, 1933 73 New York Clinton 97-3 August 10, 1993 Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (1980–1993); General Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union (1973–1980); Professor, Columbia Law School (1972–1980); Professor, Rutgers University School of Law (1963–1972)
Stephen Breyer Breyer August 15, 1938 68 Mass. Clinton 87-9 August 3, 1994 Chief Judge, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (1990–1994); Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (1980–1990); Professor, Harvard Law School (1967–1980)
Samuel Alito Alito April 1, 1950 56 New Jersey G.W. Bush 58-42 January 31, 2006 Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (1990–2006); Professor, Seton Hall University School of Law (1999–2004); U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey (1987–1990); Deputy Assistant Attorney General (1985–1987); Assistant to the Solicitor General (1981–1985); Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey (1977–1981)

As of 2006, the average age of the U.S. Supreme Court justices is 66 years. See also Demographics of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Retired justices

Research suggests that justices are often strategic in their decisions to leave the bench with personal, institutional, and partisan factors playing a role. The fear of mental decline and death often precludes justices from stepping down. The desire to maximize the Court's strength and legitimacy through one retirement at a time, when the Court is in recess, and during non-presidential election years suggests a concern for institutional health. Finally, if at all possible, justices seek to depart under favorable presidents and senates to ensure that a like-minded successor will be appointed.

Currently, there is only one retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor, who announced her intent to retire in 2005 and was replaced by Justice Alito in 2006.

Seniority and seating

During Court sessions, the Justices sit according to seniority, with the Chief Justice in the center, and the Associate Justices on alternating sides, with the most senior Associate Justice on the Chief Justice's immediate right, and the most junior Associate Justice seated on the left farthest away from the Chief Justice. Therefore, the current court sits as follows from left to right when looking at the bench from the perspective of a lawyer arguing before the Court: Breyer, Thomas, Kennedy, Stevens (most senior Associate Justice), Roberts (Chief Justice), Scalia, Souter, Ginsburg and Alito (most junior Associate Justice).

Political leanings

Seven of the current justices of the court were appointed by Republican Presidents, while two were nominated by a Democrat. In legal circles, it is popularly accepted that Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito compose the Court's conservative wing. Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer are generally thought of as the Court's liberal wing. Justice Kennedy is considered a moderate conservative, who is most likely to be the swing vote that determines the outcome of close cases.

Quarters

U.S. Supreme Court building.
U.S. Supreme Court building.
Main article: United States Supreme Court building

The Supreme Court occupied various spaces in the United States Capitol until 1935, when it moved into its own purpose-built home at One First Street Northeast, Washington, DC. The four-story building was designed in a classical style sympathetic to the surrounding buildings of the Capitol complex and Library of Congress by architect Cass Gilbert, and is clad in marble quarried chiefly in Vermont. The building includes space for the Courtroom, Justices' chambers, an extensive law library, various meeting spaces, and auxiliary services such as workshop, stores, cafeteria and a gymnasium. The Supreme Court building is within the ambit of the Architect of the Capitol, but maintains its own police force, separate from the Capitol Police.

Jurisdiction

Main article: Procedures of the Supreme Court of the United States

Article Three of the United States Constitution outlines the jurisdiction of the federal courts of the United States:

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States; between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

The jurisdiction of the federal courts was further limited by the Eleventh Amendment, which forbade the federal courts from hearing cases "commenced or prosecuted against [a State] by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." However, the Eleventh Amendment is not deemed to apply if a state consents to be sued (see

Further information: diversity jurisdiction

The Constitution specifies that the Supreme Court may exercise original jurisdiction in cases affecting ambassadors and other diplomats, and in cases in which a state is a party. In all other cases, however, the Supreme Court has only appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court considers cases based on its original jurisdiction very rarely; almost all cases are brought to the Supreme Court on appeal. In practice, the only original jurisdiction cases heard by the Court are disputes between two or more states.

The power of the Supreme Court to consider appeals from state courts, rather than just federal courts, was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789 and upheld early in the Court's history, by its rulings in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816) and Cohens v. Virginia (1821). The Supreme Court is the only federal court that has jurisdiction over direct appeals from state court decisions, although there are a variety of devices that permit so-called "collateral review" of state cases.

The Supreme Court may only hear actual cases and controversies. It does not hear moot cases or issue advisory opinions. However, the Court may consider some cases, such as Roe v. Wade, that become moot during the judicial process, if it appears that the legal issue involved is likely to arise again but would not be reviewable by the Court under a strict mootness analysis. "Roe" had already had her baby when the case came to the Supreme Court, because judicial activity (trials, appeals and so on) takes much longer than human gestation. Because future abortion cases would face the same time constraints, the Court decided the case in spite of its mootness.

The Supreme Court is not required to hear every case presented to it. In cases that are heard by a three-judge United States district court (a practice that formerly was somewhat common but has been limited to very few cases by legislation in recent years), there is a right of appeal directly to the Supreme Court, although the Court may dispose of these appeals by summary order if it does not believe they are important enough for full briefing and argument. In most instances, however, the party must petition the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. By custom, certiorari is granted on the vote of four of the nine Justices. In most cases, the writ is denied; the Supreme Court normally only considers matters of national or constitutional importance. If the Court refuses to grant certiorari, it does not comment on the merits of the case; the decision of the lower court stands unchanged as if Supreme Court review had not been requested.

Court reports and citation style

Supreme Court decisions are typically cited as in the following example: "Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)." The citation consists of the names of the opposing parties; the volume number; "U.S." (signifying United States Reports, the official reporter of Supreme Court decisions); the page number on which the decision begins; and the year in which the case was decided. The names of the opposing parties are listed in the format "Petitioner v. Respondent" or "Appellant v. Appellee." The Reporter of Decisions is responsible for publication of the Court's rulings. There are two other widely-used reporters: the Supreme Court Reporter and the Lawyer's Edition, corresponding to two privately-published collections of decisions. For more information on how these reports are cited, see case citation.

Checks and balances

The Constitution does not explicitly grant the Supreme Court the power of Judicial review; nevertheless, the power of the Supreme Court to overturn laws and executive actions it deems unlawful or unconstitutional is a well-established precedent. Many of the Founding Fathers accepted the notion of judicial review; in Federalist No. 78, Alexander Hamilton writes: "A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute." The Supreme Court first established its power to declare laws unconstitutional in Marbury v. Madison (1803), consummating the system of checks and balances.

The Supreme Court cannot directly enforce its rulings; instead, it relies on respect for the Constitution and for the law for adherence to its judgments. One notable instance of nonacquiescence came in 1832, when the state of Georgia ignored the Supreme Court's decision in Worcester v. Georgia. President Andrew Jackson, who sided with the Georgia courts, is supposed to have remarked, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!"; however, this quotation is likely apocryphal. State militia in the South also resisted the desegregation of public schools after the 1954 judgment Brown v. Board of Education. More recently, many feared that President Richard Nixon would refuse to comply with the Court's order in United States v. Nixon (1974) to surrender the Watergate tapes. Nixon, however, ultimately complied with the Supreme Court's ruling.

The Constitution provides that the salary of a Justice may not be diminished during his or her continuance in office. This clause was intended to prevent Congress from punishing Justices for their decisions by reducing their emoluments. Together with the provision that Justices hold office for life, this clause helps guarantee judicial independence. However, as seen above, the President's practice of appointing justices with similar real, perceived or expected ideology can be seen to compromise judicial independence.

Quotes about arguing before the Supreme Court

  • "I had never before argued a Supreme Court case on my own. Since arguments in that court are thirty minutes in length per side, and since most of the time consumed in argument is taken up with responses to questions of the Court, Dean and I devoted most of our preparation to three overlapping issues, ones that have consumed my attention in every later Supreme Court argument as well. The first was jurisprudential in nature. What rule of law were we urging the Court to adopt? How would it apply in any future case? What would be its impact on First Amendment legal doctrine?" Floyd Abrams, discussing Landmark Communications v. Virginia.[2]


See also

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    • References

      1. ^ Todd S., Purdum. "Presidents, Picking Justices, Can Have Backfires", Courts in Transition: Nominees and History, New York Times, July 5, 2005, p. A4. Retrieved on 2006-04-24.
      2. ^ Quoted in the book by Floyd Abrams, Speaking Freely (2005), Page 65.
      • American Bar Association. (2002). "The ABA Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary: What It Is and How it Works."
      • Joan Biskupic and Elder Witt. (1997). Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press.
      • The Constitution of the United States.
      • Kermit Hall, et al. (1992). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press.
      • Harvard Law Review Assn., The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (17th Ed. 2000).
      • Peter Irons. (2000). A People's History of the Supreme Court. New York: Penguin.
      • Martin v. Texas, 200 U.S. 316, 26 S.Ct. 338, 50 L.Ed. 497 (1906).
      • William Rehnquist (1987). The Supreme Court. New York: Knopf.
      • The Rules of the Supreme Court of the United States (2005 ed.) (pdf).
      • Catherine Hetos Skifos. The Supreme Court Gets a Home
      • Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1, 64 S.Ct. 397, 88 L.Ed. 497 (1944).
      • Artemus Ward, Deciding to Leave: The Politics of Retirement from the United States Supreme Court, New York: SUNY Press, 2003.
      • Charles Warren. (1924). The Supreme Court in United States History. (3 volumes). Boston: Little, Brown and Co.
      • Bob Woodward, and Scot Armstrong. (1979). The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court. New York: Simon & Schuster.
      • The Supreme Court of the United States
      • The Court Building

      Suggested reading

      • Garner, Bryan A. Black's Law Dictionary. Deluxe 8th ed. West, 2004. ISBN 0-314-15199-0.
      • Irons, Peter and Howard Zinn. A People's History of the Supreme Court. New York: Viking, 1999. ISBN 0-670-87006-4.
      • Rehnquist, William H. The Supreme Court. New York: Knopf, 2001. ISBN 0-375-40943-2.
      • Urofsky, Melvin and Paul Finkelman. A March of Liberty: A Constitutional History of the United States. 2 vols. New York: Oxford, 2001. ISBN 0-19-512637-8 & ISBN 0-19-512635-1.


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