About the Supreme Court

Supreme Court Background:
"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 Judiciary Act of 1789 created a Supreme Court with six justices and the lower federal court system.

The Justices:
Over the years, Congress has changed the number of seats on the Supreme Court, from five to a high of ten. Today, there is one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices of the United States Supreme Court. Like all federal judges, justices are appointed by the President and are confirmed by the Senate. They typically hold office for life.

The Court's Jurisdiction:
The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over cases such as suits between two or more states and suits involving ambassadors and other public ministers. The Court has appellate jurisdiction (the Court can hear the case on appeal) on almost any other case that involves a point of constitutional and/or federal law.

When considering appeals, the Court, with a few exceptions, does not have to hear a case. The Supreme Court agrees to hear about 100-150 of the more than 7,000 cases that it is asked to review each year.

Judicial Review:
The best-known power of the Supreme Court is judicial review, or the ability of the Court to declare a Legislative or Executive act in violation of the Constitution.

The Court can strike down state laws found to be in violation of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court’s rulings apply to the states as well. The Court has the final say over when a right is protected by the Constitution or when a Constitutional right is violated.

As the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court is the last resort for those looking for justice. Due to its power of judicial review, it plays an essential role in ensuring that each branch of government recognizes the limits of its own power. It protects civil rights and liberties by striking down laws that go against the Constitution. It sets appropriate limits on democratic government by ensuring that popular majorities cannot pass laws that harm and/or take undue advantage of unpopular minorities.

In essence, the Supreme Court ensures that the changing views of a majority do not undermine the fundamental values common to all Americans, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and due process of law.

The decisions of the Supreme Court have an important impact on society at large, not just on lawyers and judges. The decisions of the Court have a profound impact on high school students.

Source: About the Supreme Court
Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts

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