In the United States, the highest court is the Supreme Court. It consists of nine (9) justices, one of whom is called as the Chief Justice. The other eight (8) judges are referred to as the Associate Justices.
If someone is to be appointed as a Justice on the Supreme Court, he or she must first be appointed by the U.S. President. However, the President cannot just place anyone of his choice on the Supreme Court as that person, when appointed by our President, must be confirmed also by the U.S. Senate.
The next lesson: Review and Practice Test
This transcript is for your convenience
Supreme Court Justices serve terms for life so elections in America are not pertaining to any Supreme Court Justice. This rule insulates the Justices from changes in public opinion whereas elected officials will care more about what their relative constituents will think of them in order to get re-elected. A Supreme Court Justice won’t need to worry about those things when ruling on cases.
So to end a Justice’s position on the Supreme Court, it will have to be through resignation, an impeachment process, or death. Only one Justice on the Supreme was ever impeached, but never was a Justice removed because of an impeachment process. To summarize the Supreme Court’s responsibilities, it holds the power of judicial review. Judicial review comprises reviewing laws and official actions.
The doctrine of so-called “judicial review” was founded on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Marbury vs. Madison case that occurred in 1803. When the Supreme Court uses its power of judicial review, we can divide the cases that the Supreme Court hears into two (2) categories: cases that involve original jurisdiction, and cases that involve a pellet jurisdiction.
Now, original jurisdiction is meaning that the Supreme Court is the first U.S. court that will hear the case, while a pellet jurisdiction is meaning that already a lower court did hear the case, and later, through the process of an appeal, that case was moved on to a higher court. So, in cases that involve original jurisdiction, the court deals with ambassadors or some other foreign official in at least two states. This is meaning that in this type of cases, the Supreme Court hears the case first.
And keep in mind that, because the Supreme Court is America’s highest court, this is meaning that no other court will be able to hear cases regarding these issues as the U.S. Supreme Court has the final say. There is no higher court where a party may appeal their case. That’s not possible. So, the U.S. Supreme Court’s word is the final one on cases that involve original jurisdiction.
Again, a pellet jurisdiction means that a case was first heard by a lower court and then, sometimes the losing party will be appealing that case to the U.S. Supreme Court. This means, as you will imagine, that many cases will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Well, our Supreme Court does not have enough time to review all of these cases, so they will select those cases that they will be making a decision on. The U.S. Supreme Court cannot rule in just any sort of case. The cases it will decide on need to pertain to American constitutional and/or federal law.
So, let’s assume a case involves state law. If that state law is contradictory or possibly contradictory to the Constitution or federal law, then it will now be a federal or constitutional issue. So now, the Supreme Court may hear the case. On the other hand, if the case is involving a state law that may be perceived to be contradictory to that state’s constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to hear that sort of cases.
The Supreme Court has also the power to overturn laws. That means that, once the U.S. President has signed a bill into law, it is only the Supreme Court that can dismiss it. Of course, Congress and the President may pass a new law to change a previous law but once that law is passed, the U.S. Supreme Court is serving as a check and balance on the Congress and President by overturning the laws if they think that the laws are unconstitutional.
One more responsibility that is little known and not used often is that the Court’s Chief Justice oversees impeachment procedures. Now this is actually a fine example of how the powers are separated as the U.S. House of Representatives may impeach any type of official for that matter, they just are impeaching the official, but the U.S. Senate then will conduct the trial as an impeachment is actually only really just only an inditement. The Senate will then conduct the trial, but the Chief Justice will oversee the whole entire of impeachment. This means that it isn’t just one part of the governmental system that’s overseeing the whole impeachment process.
Now let’s go back to cases and judicial review. When the Supreme Court decides on a case, the majority will write the majority opinion and the Justices who are disagreeing with the majority will write their dissenting opinion. So, in cases where all nine of the Supreme Court Justices have taken the same stance on a case, the ruling will be nine (9) to zero (0) which means that all nine (9) Supreme Court Justices have ruled together. There is just one majority opinion. But let’s say the ruling was five (5) to four (4), the five (5) justices will write the majority opinion while the other four (4) will be writing the dissenting opinion.
Now, in case one of the majority’s justices agrees with this majority but for different reasons. Then, that justice can write a concurring opinion. For example, when a case is heard and the Supreme Court says that a law is considered to be unconstitutional, the majority, let’s say five (5) of the justices could say, “Yes, we are believing this law to be unconstitutional,” but four (4) of these justices are believing it is unconstitutional because of one reason (A), while another Supreme Court Justice believes the law is also unconstitutional, but for another reason (B). The five Justices would then write the concurring opinion.
Of course, not all nine, or all six or five, justices will be writing the majority opinion. Usually, they would have just one of them write that opinion. The majority opinion is serving as a precedent. This word is very important to keep in mind when we deal with the U.S. Supreme Court. In essence, it means that when the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on a case, the court’s majority opinion has become law. In other words, the U.S. Supreme Court will not hear any other case that was already decided on. In general, they’ll just be deferring to precedent, meaning what was decided on earlier.
So, in fact, the only remaining way for changing this precedent will be through a constitutional amendment, as constitutional amendments can’t unconstitutional because they are amending (so be part of) the Constitution.
And now, from here, the amendment would take, as it is, “precedence over the precedent”, and I know it sounds a bit confusing, but basically, the amendment to the Constitution is now considered to be higher up than the precedent meaning the precedent is no longer holding any weight.
So, that was a look at the U.S. Supreme Court, how it’s made up, and the responsibilities.