Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. It is made up of nine justices, one of those justices is referred to as the Chief Justice, and the rest are known as Associate Justices.

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For someone to become a Supreme Court Justice, they first have to be appointed by the President, but the President cannot place anyone he wants on the Supreme Court because of that person, after being appointed by the President, then has to be confirmed by the Senate.

Mini-test: Social Studies – Supreme Court 

88. Which of the following statements about the Supreme Court justices is incorrect?
A.  
B.  
C.  
D.  
89. The responsibilities of the Supreme Court include which of the following?
A.  
B.  
C.  
D.  
E.  

 

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The transcript is for your convenience
The term that a Supreme Court Justice serves is for life. So, elections do not pertain to Supreme Court Justices. This serves to insulate them from public opinion, while elected officials care a lot about what their constituents think of them, so they can be re-elected. Supreme Court Justices don’t have to worry about that when making rulings on cases.

So, for someone’s position as a Supreme Court Justice to end, it has to end until resignation, death, or the impeachment process. Only one Supreme Court Justice has ever been impeached, but no Justice has ever been removed through the impeachment process. Now, to summarize the responsibilities of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court possesses the power of judicial review, and judicial review entails reviewing laws or official actions.

And the doctrine of judicial review was founded based on the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Marbury vs. Madison, and that case occurred in 1803. Now, when using its power of judicial review, the cases that the Supreme Court hears can be divided into two categories: cases involving original jurisdiction, and cases involving a pellet jurisdiction.

So, original jurisdiction means that the court is the first court to hear that case, whereas a pellet jurisdiction means that a lower court heard the case, and then, through an appeal process, the case was passed up to the higher court. So, cases involving original jurisdiction deal with ambassadors and other foreign officials in two or more states. So, that means that the Supreme Court is the first court to hear these types of cases.

And remember, since the Supreme Court is the highest court, which means that no other court can hear cases involving these issues because the Supreme Court has the final say on cases. There’s no higher court for a party to appeal the case up to a higher court. That can’t occur. So, Supreme Court is the final and only word on cases involving original jurisdiction.

Now, a pellet jurisdiction, again, means that a lower court heard the case first, and then, sometimes the losing party in a lower court will appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Now, as you can imagine, many cases are appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court doesn’t have time to review all these cases,  so they select the cases they want to make a decision on. Now, the Supreme Court cannot just rule in any type of case. The case must pertain to constitutional or federal law.

So, say the case involves a state law. If the state law is in contradiction or possible contradiction to federal law or the Constitution, then it’s now a constitutional or federal issue. So, the Supreme Court can hear the case. But, if the issue involves a state law that is perceived to be in conflict with the state’s constitution, the Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear that type of case.

The Supreme Court can also overturn laws. So, that means that once the President signs a bill in the law, only Supreme Court can then dismiss it. Now, of course,
Congress and the President can pass a new law that changes a previous law passed, but once a law is passed, the Supreme Court serves as a check and a balance on  Congress and the President by sometimes overturning laws if they’re found to be unconstitutional.

Another responsibility that’s not very well known and isn’t used very often is that the Chief Justice oversees the process of impeachment. So, this is a great example of separation of powers, because the House of Representatives can impeach an elected official, or any type of official for that matter, they impeach the official, the Senate then conducts the trial, because an impeachment is really just an inditement. So, the Senate then conducts the trial, but then the Chief Justice oversees the whole process of impeachment. So, that means that just one part of our government system isn’t overseeing the entire impeachment process.

Now, going back to cases and judicial review,  when the Supreme Court makes a decision on a case,  the majority writes the majority opinion. And the Supreme Court Justices who disagree with the majority write the dissenting opinion. So, in the case where all the Supreme Court Justices take the same stance on an issue, then the ruling will be nine to zero,  meaning that all nine Supreme Court Justices ruled together. So, there will only be a majority opinion. But say the ruling was a five to four ruling,  then the five justices write the majority opinion, and then the other four write the dissenting opinion.

Now, say that one of the justices in the majority agrees with the majority but for a different reason. That person can then write the concurring opinion. So, maybe for example, a case is brought to the Supreme Court saying that a law is believed to be unconstitutional,  while the majority, five of the justices may say, “Yes, we believe that this law is unconstitutional,” but four of the justices believe it’s unconstitutional because of reason A, but then there’s one Supreme Court Justice who believes the law is unconstitutional, but for reason B.  They then would write the concurring opinion.

Now, of course, all nine,  or all five or six or seven or eight of the justices aren’t going to write the majority opinion. They would usually just have one of the justices write that opinion. And the majority opinion serves as a precedent. This is a very important word to remember when dealing with the Supreme Court. So, in essence, when the Supreme Court rules on a case,  the majority opinion becomes law. In other words, in future cases, the Supreme Court isn’t going to hear another case that has already been decided on. Generally, they’re just going to defer to precedent,  or what has been decided on in the past.

So, really, the only way to change this precedent is through a constitutional amendment, because a constitutional amendment cannot be found unconstitutional because it’s amending the Constitution. And so, from there, the amendment now would take precedent over the precedent, really – that may be a little bit confusing  – basically the constitutional amendment is now considered higher up than the precedent, and so, the precedent no longer holds any weight.

So, that’s a look at the Supreme Court,  its makeup, and its responsibilities.

Next Lesson: Elections