Supreme Court of the United States

Supreme Court of the United States

Overview
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate (but largely discretionary
Certiorari
Certiorari is a type of writ seeking judicial review, recognized in U.S., Roman, English, Philippine, and other law. Certiorari is the present passive infinitive of the Latin certiorare...

) appellate jurisdiction
Appellate jurisdiction
Appellate jurisdiction is the power of the Supreme Court to review decisions and change outcomes of decisions of lower courts. Most appellate jurisdiction is legislatively created, and may consist of appeals by leave of the appellate court or by right...

 over all state and federal courts
United States federal courts
The United States federal courts make up the judiciary branch of federal government of the United States organized under the United States Constitution and laws of the federal government.-Categories:...

, and original jurisdiction
Original jurisdiction
The original jurisdiction of a court is the power to hear a case for the first time, as opposed to appellate jurisdiction, when a court has the power to review a lower court's decision.-France:...

 over a small range of cases. The Court, which meets in the United States Supreme Court Building
United States Supreme Court building
The Supreme Court Building is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States. It is situated in Washington, D.C. at 1 First Street, NE, on the block immediately east of the United States Capitol. The building is under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol. On May 4, 1987, the Supreme...

 in Washington, D.C., consists of a chief justice
Chief Justice of the United States
The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

 and eight associate justices
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are the members of the Supreme Court of the United States other than the Chief Justice of the United States...

 who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Once appointed, justices have life tenure unless they are removed after impeachment
Impeachment in the United States
Impeachment in the United States is an expressed power of the legislature that allows for formal charges against a civil officer of government for crimes committed in office...

.

Under Chief Justices Jay
John Jay
John Jay was an American politician, statesman, revolutionary, diplomat, a Founding Father of the United States, and the first Chief Justice of the United States ....

, Rutledge
John Rutledge
John Rutledge was an American statesman and judge. He was the first Governor of South Carolina following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the 31st overall...

, and Ellsworth
Oliver Ellsworth
Oliver Ellsworth was an American lawyer and politician, a revolutionary against British rule, a drafter of the United States Constitution, and the third Chief Justice of the United States. While at the Federal Convention, Ellsworth moved to strike the word National from the motion made by Edmund...

  (1789–1801), the Court heard few cases; its first decision was West v. Barnes
West v. Barnes
West v. Barnes, 2 U.S. 401 , was the first United States Supreme Court decision and the earliest case calling for oral argument. Van Staphorst v. Maryland was docketed prior to West v. Barnes but settled before the Court heard the case: West was argued on August 2, 1791 and decided on August 3,...

 (1791), a case involving a procedural issue.
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Timeline

1789   The United States Congress passes the Judiciary Act which creates the office of the United States Attorney General and the federal judiciary system, and orders the composition of the Supreme Court of the United States.

1790   In New York City, the Supreme Court of the United States attempts to convene for the first time.

1790   The Supreme Court of the United States convenes for the first time.

1803   In ''Marbury v. Madison'', the Supreme Court of the United States establishes the principle of judicial review.

1804   The Democratic-Republican-controlled United States Senate begins an impeachment trial against Federalist-partisan Supreme Court of the United States Justice Samuel Chase.

1841   The U.S. Supreme Court rules that captive Africans who had seized control of the ship carrying them had been taken into slavery illegally.

1857   Supreme Court of the United States rules in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case.

1879   Women's rights: American President Rutherford B. Hayes signs a bill allowing female attorneys to argue cases before the Supreme Court of the United States.

1893   The Supreme Court of the United States rules in ''Nix v. Hedden'' that a tomato is a vegetable, not a fruit, under the Tariff Act of 1883.

1895   In Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. the Supreme Court of the United States declares unapportioned income tax to be unconstitutional.

 
Encyclopedia
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate (but largely discretionary
Certiorari
Certiorari is a type of writ seeking judicial review, recognized in U.S., Roman, English, Philippine, and other law. Certiorari is the present passive infinitive of the Latin certiorare...

) appellate jurisdiction
Appellate jurisdiction
Appellate jurisdiction is the power of the Supreme Court to review decisions and change outcomes of decisions of lower courts. Most appellate jurisdiction is legislatively created, and may consist of appeals by leave of the appellate court or by right...

 over all state and federal courts
United States federal courts
The United States federal courts make up the judiciary branch of federal government of the United States organized under the United States Constitution and laws of the federal government.-Categories:...

, and original jurisdiction
Original jurisdiction
The original jurisdiction of a court is the power to hear a case for the first time, as opposed to appellate jurisdiction, when a court has the power to review a lower court's decision.-France:...

 over a small range of cases. The Court, which meets in the United States Supreme Court Building
United States Supreme Court building
The Supreme Court Building is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States. It is situated in Washington, D.C. at 1 First Street, NE, on the block immediately east of the United States Capitol. The building is under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol. On May 4, 1987, the Supreme...

 in Washington, D.C., consists of a chief justice
Chief Justice of the United States
The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

 and eight associate justices
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are the members of the Supreme Court of the United States other than the Chief Justice of the United States...

 who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Once appointed, justices have life tenure unless they are removed after impeachment
Impeachment in the United States
Impeachment in the United States is an expressed power of the legislature that allows for formal charges against a civil officer of government for crimes committed in office...

.

Earliest beginnings to Marshall


Under Chief Justices Jay
John Jay
John Jay was an American politician, statesman, revolutionary, diplomat, a Founding Father of the United States, and the first Chief Justice of the United States ....

, Rutledge
John Rutledge
John Rutledge was an American statesman and judge. He was the first Governor of South Carolina following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the 31st overall...

, and Ellsworth
Oliver Ellsworth
Oliver Ellsworth was an American lawyer and politician, a revolutionary against British rule, a drafter of the United States Constitution, and the third Chief Justice of the United States. While at the Federal Convention, Ellsworth moved to strike the word National from the motion made by Edmund...

  (1789–1801), the Court heard few cases; its first decision was West v. Barnes
West v. Barnes
West v. Barnes, 2 U.S. 401 , was the first United States Supreme Court decision and the earliest case calling for oral argument. Van Staphorst v. Maryland was docketed prior to West v. Barnes but settled before the Court heard the case: West was argued on August 2, 1791 and decided on August 3,...

 (1791), a case involving a procedural issue. The Court lacked a home of its own and had little prestige, a situation not helped by the highest-profile case of the era, Chisholm v. Georgia
Chisholm v. Georgia
Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 , is considered the first United States Supreme Court case of significance and impact. Given its date, there is little available legal precedent...

, which was immediately repudiated by the Eleventh Amendment
Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was passed by the Congress on March 4, 1794, and was ratified on February 7, 1795, deals with each state's sovereign immunity. This amendment was adopted in order to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Chisholm v...

.

The Court's power and prestige waxed during the Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

 Court (1801–1835). Under Marshall, the Court established the principle of judicial review, including specifying itself as the supreme expositor of the Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 (Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison, is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring...

) and made several important constitutional rulings giving shape and substance to the balance of power
Balance of power (federalism)
In federations, the balance of power is the degree to which power is centralized in the federal government or devolved to the subnational governments. In confederations , it is more likely that the balance of power will be in favour of the sub-national level of government . Canada is an example of...

 between the federal government and the states (prominently, Martin v. Hunter's Lessee
Martin v. Hunter's Lessee
Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, , was a landmark United States Supreme Court case decided on March 20, 1816. It was the first case to assert ultimate Supreme Court authority over state courts in matters of federal law.-Background:...

, McCulloch v. Maryland
McCulloch v. Maryland
McCulloch v. Maryland, , was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. The state of Maryland had attempted to impede operation of a branch of the Second Bank of the United States by imposing a tax on all notes of banks not chartered in Maryland...

 and Gibbons v. Ogden
Gibbons v. Ogden
Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 , was a landmark decision in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the power to regulate interstate commerce was granted to Congress by the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. The case was argued by some of America's most admired and...

).

The Marshall Court also ended the practice of each justice issuing his opinion seriatim
Seriatim
Seriatim is a legal term typically used to indicate that a court is addressing multiple issues in a certain order, such as the order that the issues were originally presented to the court....

, a remnant of British tradition, and instead issuing a single majority opinion. Also during Marshall's tenure, although beyond the Court's control, the impeachment and acquittal of Justice Samuel Chase
Samuel Chase
Samuel Chase was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court and earlier was a signatory to the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of Maryland. Early in life, Chase was a "firebrand" states-righter and revolutionary...

 in 1804-1805 helped cement the principle of judicial independence
Judicial independence
Judicial Independence is the idea that the judiciary needs to be kept away from the other branches of government...

.

From Taney to Taft



The Taney
Roger B. Taney
Roger Brooke Taney was the fifth Chief Justice of the United States, holding that office from 1836 until his death in 1864. He was the first Roman Catholic to hold that office or sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. He was also the eleventh United States Attorney General. He is most...

 Court (1836–1864) made several important rulings, such as Sheldon v. Sill
Sheldon v. Sill
Sheldon v. Sill, , is a ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the Court held that while Congress may not limit the subjects the Supreme Court may hear, the Constitution does not so restrain it where lower federal courts are concerned....

, which held that while Congress may not limit the subjects the Supreme Court may hear, it may limit the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts to prevent them from hearing cases dealing with certain subjects. Nevertheless, it is primarily remembered for its ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford
Dred Scott v. Sandford
Dred Scott v. Sandford, , also known as the Dred Scott Decision, was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S...

, which may have helped precipitate the Civil War. In the Reconstruction era, the Chase
Salmon P. Chase
Salmon Portland Chase was an American politician and jurist who served as U.S. Senator from Ohio and the 23rd Governor of Ohio; as U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Abraham Lincoln; and as the sixth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.Chase was one of the most prominent members...

, Waite
Morrison Waite
Morrison Remick Waite, nicknamed "Mott" was the seventh Chief Justice of the United States from 1874 to 1888.-Early life and education:...

, and Fuller
Melville Fuller
Melville Weston Fuller was the eighth Chief Justice of the United States between 1888 and 1910.-Early life and education:...

 Courts (1864–1910) interpreted the new Civil War amendments to the Constitution and developed the doctrine of substantive due process
Substantive due process
Substantive due process is one of the theories of law through which courts enforce limits on legislative and executive powers and authority...

 (Lochner v. New York
Lochner v. New York
Lochner vs. New York, , was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that held a "liberty of contract" was implicit in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The case involved a New York law that limited the number of hours that a baker could work each day to ten, and limited the...

; Adair v. United States
Adair v. United States
Adair v. United States, , is a United States Supreme Court case which upheld "yellow-dog" contracts that forbade workers from joining labor unions. The decision reaffirmed the doctrine of freedom of contract which was first recognized by the Court in Allgeyer v. Louisiana...

).

Under the White
Edward Douglass White
Edward Douglass White, Jr. , American politician and jurist, was a United States senator, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court and the ninth Chief Justice of the United States. He was best known for formulating the Rule of Reason standard of antitrust law. He also sided with the...

 and Taft
William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft was the 27th President of the United States and later the tenth Chief Justice of the United States...

 Courts (1910–1930), the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the Dred Scott v...

 had incorporated
Incorporation (Bill of Rights)
The incorporation of the Bill of Rights is the process by which American courts have applied portions of the U.S. Bill of Rights to the states. Prior to the 1890s, the Bill of Rights was held only to apply to the federal government...

 some guarantees of the Bill of Rights
United States Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These limitations serve to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. They guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and...

 against the states (Gitlow v. New York
Gitlow v. New York
Gitlow v. New York, , was a decision by the United States Supreme Court, which ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution had extended the reach of certain provisions of the First Amendment—specifically the provisions protecting freedom of speech and freedom of the...

),
grappled with the new antitrust
Antitrust
The United States antitrust law is a body of laws that prohibits anti-competitive behavior and unfair business practices. Antitrust laws are intended to encourage competition in the marketplace. These competition laws make illegal certain practices deemed to hurt businesses or consumers or both,...

 statutes (Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States
Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States
Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States, 221 U.S. 1 , was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States found Standard Oil guilty of monopolizing the petroleum industry through a series of abusive and anticompetitive actions...

), upheld the constitutionality of military conscription
Conscription in the United States
Conscription in the United States has been employed several times, usually during war but also during the nominal peace of the Cold War...

 (Arver v. United States) and brought the substantive due process doctrine to its first apogee (Adkins v. Children's Hospital
Adkins v. Children's Hospital
Adkins v. Children's Hospital, , is a Supreme Court opinion holding that federal minimum wage legislation for women was an unconstitutional infringement of liberty of contract, as protected by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment....

).

The New Deal era


During the Hughes
Charles Evans Hughes
Charles Evans Hughes, Sr. was an American statesman, lawyer and Republican politician from New York. He served as the 36th Governor of New York , Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States , United States Secretary of State , a judge on the Court of International Justice , and...

, Stone
Harlan Fiske Stone
Harlan Fiske Stone was an American lawyer and jurist. A native of New Hampshire, he served as the dean of Columbia Law School, his alma mater, in the early 20th century. As a member of the Republican Party, he was appointed as the 52nd Attorney General of the United States before becoming an...

, and Vinson
Fred M. Vinson
Frederick Moore Vinson served the United States in all three branches of government and was the most prominent member of the Vinson political family. In the legislative branch, he was an elected member of the United States House of Representatives from Louisa, Kentucky, for twelve years...

 Courts (1930–1953), the Court gained its own accommodation
United States Supreme Court building
The Supreme Court Building is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States. It is situated in Washington, D.C. at 1 First Street, NE, on the block immediately east of the United States Capitol. The building is under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol. On May 4, 1987, the Supreme...

 in 1935 and changed its interpretation of the Constitution
The switch in time that saved nine
“The switch in time that saved nine” is the name given to what was perceived as the sudden jurisprudential shift by Associate Justice Owen J. Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish...

, giving a broader reading to the powers of the federal government to facilitate President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal
New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

 (most prominently West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish
West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish
West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, , was a decision by the United States Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of minimum wage legislation enacted by the State of Washington, overturning an earlier decision in Adkins v. Children's Hospital,...

, Wickard v. Filburn
Wickard v. Filburn
Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 , was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized the power of the federal government to regulate economic activity. A farmer, Roscoe Filburn, was growing wheat for on-farm consumption. The U.S...

, United States v. Darby and United States v. Butler
United States v. Butler
United States v. Butler, , was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the processing taxes instituted under the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act were unconstitutional...

).
During World War II, the Court continued to favor government power, upholding the internment of Japanese citizens (Korematsu v. United States
Korematsu v. United States
Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 , was a landmark United States Supreme Court case concerning the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, which ordered Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II....

) and the mandatory pledge of allegiance (Minersville School District v. Gobitis
Minersville School District v. Gobitis
Minersville School District v. Gobitis, , was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States involving the religious rights of public school students under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution...

). Nevertheless, Gobitis was soon repudiated (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 , is a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that held that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protected students from being forced to salute the American flag and say the...

), and the Steel Seizure Case
Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer
Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, , also commonly referred to as The Steel Seizure Case, was a United States Supreme Court decision that limited the power of the President of the United States to seize private property in the absence of either specifically enumerated authority under Article...

 restricted the pro-government trend.

Warren and Burger


The Warren
Earl Warren
Earl Warren was the 14th Chief Justice of the United States.He is known for the sweeping decisions of the Warren Court, which ended school segregation and transformed many areas of American law, especially regarding the rights of the accused, ending public-school-sponsored prayer, and requiring...

 Court (1953–1969) dramatically expanded the force of Constitutional civil liberties
Civil liberties
Civil liberties are rights and freedoms that provide an individual specific rights such as the freedom from slavery and forced labour, freedom from torture and death, the right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial, the right to defend one's self, the right to own and bear arms, the right...

. It held that segregation in public schools
Desegregation
Desegregation is the process of ending the separation of two groups usually referring to races. This is most commonly used in reference to the United States. Desegregation was long a focus of the American Civil Rights Movement, both before and after the United States Supreme Court's decision in...

 violates equal protection
Equal Protection Clause
The Equal Protection Clause, part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, provides that "no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws"...

 (Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 , was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which...

, Bolling v. Sharpe
Bolling v. Sharpe
Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 , is a landmark United States Supreme Court case which deals with civil rights, specifically, segregation in the District of Columbia's public schools. Originally argued on December 10–11, 1952, a year before Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S...

 and Green v. County School Bd.
Green v. County School Board of New Kent County
Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, 391 U.S. 430 was an important United States Supreme Court case dealing with the freedom of choice plans created to comply with the mandate in Brown II...

) and that traditional legislative district boundaries violated the right to vote (Reynolds v. Sims
Reynolds v. Sims
Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 was a United States Supreme Court case that ruled that state legislature districts had to be roughly equal in population.-Facts:...

). It created a general right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut
Griswold v. Connecticut
Griswold v. Connecticut, , was a landmark case in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Constitution protected a right to privacy. The case involved a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraceptives...

), limited the role of religion in public school (most prominently Engel v. Vitale
Engel v. Vitale
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 , was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that determined that it is unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and require its recitation in public schools....

 and Abington School District v. Schempp
Abington School District v. Schempp
Abington Township School District v. Schempp , 374 U.S. 203 , was a United States Supreme Court case argued on February 27–28, 1963 and decided on June 17, 1963...

), incorporated most guarantees of the Bill of Rights
Bill of rights
A bill of rights is a list of the most important rights of the citizens of a country. The purpose of these bills is to protect those rights against infringement. The term "bill of rights" originates from England, where it referred to the Bill of Rights 1689. Bills of rights may be entrenched or...

 against the States—prominently Mapp v. Ohio
Mapp v. Ohio
Mapp v. Ohio, , was a landmark case in criminal procedure, in which the United States Supreme Court decided that evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against "unreasonable searches and seizures," may not be used in criminal prosecutions in state courts, as well as...

 (the exclusionary rule
Exclusionary rule
The exclusionary rule is a legal principle in the United States, under constitutional law, which holds that evidence collected or analyzed in violation of the defendant's constitutional rights is sometimes inadmissible for a criminal prosecution in a court of law...

) and Gideon v. Wainwright
Gideon v. Wainwright
Gideon v. Wainwright, , is a landmark case in United States Supreme Court history. In the case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state courts are required under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants who are unable to afford their own...

 (right to appointed counsel
Public defender
The term public defender is primarily used to refer to a criminal defense lawyer appointed to represent people charged with a crime but who cannot afford to hire an attorney in the United States and Brazil. The term is also applied to some ombudsman offices, for example in Jamaica, and is one way...

),—and required that criminal suspects be apprised of all these rights by police (Miranda v. Arizona
Miranda v. Arizona
Miranda v. Arizona, , was a landmark 5–4 decision of the United States Supreme Court. The Court held that both inculpatory and exculpatory statements made in response to interrogation by a defendant in police custody will be admissible at trial only if the prosecution can show that the defendant...

); At the same time, however, the Court limited defamation suits by public figures (New York Times v. Sullivan) and supplied the government with an unbroken run of antitrust victories.

The Burger
Warren E. Burger
Warren Earl Burger was the 15th Chief Justice of the United States from 1969 to 1986. Although Burger had conservative leanings, the U.S...

 Court (1969–1986) expanded Griswolds right to privacy to strike down abortion laws (Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade, , was a controversial landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. The Court decided that a right to privacy under the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution extends to a woman's decision to have an abortion,...

), but divided deeply on affirmative action
Affirmative action
Affirmative action refers to policies that take factors including "race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or national origin" into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group, usually as a means to counter the effects of a history of discrimination.-Origins:The term...

 (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that ruled unconstitutional the admission process of the Medical School at the University of California at Davis, which set aside 16 of the 100 seats for African American...

) and campaign finance regulation (Buckley v. Valeo
Buckley v. Valeo
Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 , was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States upheld a federal law which set limits on campaign contributions, but ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech, and struck down portions of the law...

), and dithered on the death penalty, ruling first that most applications were defective (Furman v. Georgia
Furman v. Georgia
Furman v. Georgia, was a United States Supreme Court decision that ruled on the requirement for a degree of consistency in the application of the death penalty. The case led to a de facto moratorium on capital punishment throughout the United States, which came to an end when Gregg v. Georgia was...

), then that the death penalty itself was not unconstitutional (Gregg v. Georgia
Gregg v. Georgia
Gregg v. Georgia, Proffitt v. Florida, Jurek v. Texas, Woodson v. North Carolina, and Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 153 , reaffirmed the United States Supreme Court's acceptance of the use of the death penalty in the United States, upholding, in particular, the death sentence imposed on Troy Leon...

).

Rehnquist and Roberts


The Rehnquist
William Rehnquist
William Hubbs Rehnquist was an American lawyer, jurist, and political figure who served as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States and later as the 16th Chief Justice of the United States...

 Court (1986–2005) was noted for its revival of judicial enforcement of federalism
Federalism
Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by covenant with a governing representative head. The term "federalism" is also used to describe a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and...

, emphasizing the limits of the Constitution's affirmative grants of power (United States v. Lopez
United States v. Lopez
United States v. Alfonso Lopez, Jr., was the first United States Supreme Court case since the New Deal to set limits to Congress's power under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.-Background:...

) and the force of its restrictions on those powers (Seminole Tribe v. Florida
Seminole Tribe v. Florida
Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 , was a United States Supreme Court case which held that Article One of the U.S. Constitution did not give the United States Congress the power to abrogate the sovereign immunity of the states that is further protected under the Eleventh Amendment...

, City of Boerne v. Flores
City of Boerne v. Flores
City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 , was a Supreme Court case concerning the scope of Congress's enforcement power under the fifth section of the Fourteenth Amendment...

). It struck down single-sex state schools as a violation of equal protection (United States v. Virginia
United States v. Virginia
United States v. Virginia, , is a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Virginia Military Institute's long-standing male-only admission policy in a 7-1 decision...

), laws against sodomy
Sodomy
Sodomy is an anal or other copulation-like act, especially between male persons or between a man and animal, and one who practices sodomy is a "sodomite"...

 as violations of substantive due process
Substantive due process
Substantive due process is one of the theories of law through which courts enforce limits on legislative and executive powers and authority...

 (Lawrence v. Texas
Lawrence v. Texas
Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 , is a landmark United States Supreme Court case. In the 6-3 ruling, the Court struck down the sodomy law in Texas and, by proxy, invalidated sodomy laws in the thirteen other states where they remained in existence, thereby making same-sex sexual activity legal in...

), and the line item veto (Clinton v. New York), but upheld school vouchers (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris
Zelman v. Simmons-Harris
Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, , was a case decided by the United States Supreme Court which tested the allowance of school vouchers in relation to the establishment clause of the First Amendment....

) and reaffirmed Roes restrictions on abortion laws (Planned Parenthood v. Casey
Planned Parenthood v. Casey
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the constitutionality of several Pennsylvania state regulations regarding abortion were challenged...

). The Court's decision in Bush v. Gore
Bush v. Gore
Bush v. Gore, , is the landmark United States Supreme Court decision on December 12, 2000, that effectively resolved the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush. Only eight days earlier, the United States Supreme Court had unanimously decided the closely related case of Bush v...

, which ended the electoral recount during the presidential election of 2000
United States presidential election, 2000
The United States presidential election of 2000 was a contest between Republican candidate George W. Bush, then-governor of Texas and son of former president George H. W. Bush , and Democratic candidate Al Gore, then-Vice President....

, became controversial.

The Roberts Court (2005–present) is regarded by some as more conservative than the Rehnquist Court. Some of its major rulings have concerned federal preemption
Federal preemption
Federal preemption refers to the invalidation of US state law when it conflicts with Federal law.-Constitutional basis:According to the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution,...

 (Wyeth v. Levine
Wyeth v. Levine
Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. 555 , is a United States Supreme Court case holding that Federal regulatory approval of a medication does not shield the manufacturer from liability under state law.-Vermont jury trial:...

), civil procedure (Bell
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, , was a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States involving anti-trust law and civil procedure. Authored by Justice David Souter, it established that parallel conduct, absent evidence of agreement, is insufficient to sustain an anti-trust action under § 1...

-Iqbal
Ashcroft v. Iqbal
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937 , was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that top government officials were not liable for the actions of their subordinates absent evidence that they ordered the allegedly discriminatory activity...

), abortion
Abortion
Abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo prior to viability. An abortion can occur spontaneously, in which case it is usually called a miscarriage, or it can be purposely induced...

 (Gonzales v. Carhart
Gonzales v. Carhart
Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124 , is a United States Supreme Court case that upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. The case reached the high court after U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appealed a ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in favor of...

), and the Bill of Rights, prominently Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, , was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court holding that the First Amendment prohibits government from censoring political broadcasts in candidate elections when those broadcasts are funded by corporations or unions...

 (First Amendment
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering...

), Heller
District of Columbia v. Heller
District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 , was a landmark case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects an individual's right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes in federal enclaves, such as...

-McDonald
McDonald v. Chicago
McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025, 130 S.Ct. 3020 , was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that determined whether the Second Amendment applies to the individual states...

 (Second Amendment
Second Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights that protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights.In 2008 and 2010, the Supreme Court issued two Second...

), and Baze v. Rees
Baze v. Rees
Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35 , was a United States Supreme Court case. The court agreed to hear the appeal of two men, Ralph Baze and Thomas Bowling, who were sentenced to death in Kentucky. The men argue that executing them by lethal injection would violate the 8th Amendment prohibition of cruel and...

 (Eighth Amendment
Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights which prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that this amendment's Cruel and Unusual...

).

Size of the Court


Article III of the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 leaves it to Congress to fix the number of justices. The Judiciary Act of 1789
Judiciary Act of 1789
The United States Judiciary Act of 1789 was a landmark statute adopted on September 24, 1789 in the first session of the First United States Congress establishing the U.S. federal judiciary...

 called for the appointment of six justices, and as the nation's boundaries grew, Congress added justices to correspond with the growing number of judicial circuits: seven in 1807, nine in 1837, and ten in 1863.

In 1866, at the behest of Chief Justice Chase
Salmon P. Chase
Salmon Portland Chase was an American politician and jurist who served as U.S. Senator from Ohio and the 23rd Governor of Ohio; as U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Abraham Lincoln; and as the sixth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.Chase was one of the most prominent members...

, Congress passed an act
Judicial Circuits Act
The Judicial Circuits Act of 1866 reorganized the United States circuit courts and provided for the gradual elimination of several seats on the Supreme Court of the United States...

 providing that the next three justices to retire would not be replaced, which would thin the bench to seven justices by attrition. Consequently, one seat was removed in 1866 and a second in 1867. In 1869, however, the Circuit Judges Act
Judiciary Act of 1869
The Judiciary Act of 1869 , also called the Circuit Judges Act of 1869, was a United States statute that made two important reforms of the federal judiciary....

 returned the number of justices to nine, where it has since remained.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 attempted to expand the Court in 1937. His proposal envisioned appointment of one additional justice for each incumbent justice who reached the age of 70 years 6 months and refused retirement, up to a maximum bench of 15 justices. The proposal was ostensibly to ease the burden of the docket on elderly judges, but the actual purpose was widely understood as an effort to pack the Court with justices who would support Roosevelt's New Deal
New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

. The plan, usually called the "Court-packing Plan", failed in Congress and proved a fiasco for Roosevelt. Nevertheless, the Court's balance began to shift within months when Justice van Devanter
Willis Van Devanter
Willis Van Devanter was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, January 3, 1911 to June 2, 1937.- Early life and career :...

 retired and was replaced by Senator Hugo Black
Hugo Black
Hugo Lafayette Black was an American politician and jurist. A member of the Democratic Party, Black represented Alabama in the United States Senate from 1927 to 1937, and served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1937 to 1971. Black was nominated to the Supreme...

. By the end of 1941, Roosevelt had appointed seven justices and elevated Harlan Fiske Stone
Harlan Fiske Stone
Harlan Fiske Stone was an American lawyer and jurist. A native of New Hampshire, he served as the dean of Columbia Law School, his alma mater, in the early 20th century. As a member of the Republican Party, he was appointed as the 52nd Attorney General of the United States before becoming an...

 to Chief Justice.

Appointment and confirmation



The President of the United States appoints justices "by and with the advice and consent
Advice and consent
Advice and consent is an English phrase frequently used in enacting formulae of bills and in other legal or constitutional contexts, describing a situation in which the executive branch of a government enacts something previously approved of by the legislative branch.-General:The expression is...

 of the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

." Most presidents nominate candidates who broadly share their ideological views, although a justice's decisions may end up being contrary to a president's expectations. Because the Constitution sets no qualifications for service as a justice, a president may nominate anyone to serve, subject to Senate confirmation.
In modern times, the confirmation process has attracted considerable attention from the press and advocacy groups, which lobby
Lobbying
Lobbying is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies. Lobbying is done by various people or groups, from private-sector individuals or corporations, fellow legislators or government officials, or...

 senators to confirm or to reject a nominee depending on whether their track record aligns with the group's views. The Senate Judiciary Committee
United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary
The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary is a standing committee of the United States Senate, of the United States Congress. The Judiciary Committee, with 18 members, is charged with conducting hearings prior to the Senate votes on confirmation of federal judges nominated by the...

 conducts hearings and votes on whether the nomination should go to the full Senate with a positive, negative or neutral report. The committee's practice of personally interviewing nominees is relatively recent. The first nominee to appear before the committee was Harlan Fiske Stone
Harlan Fiske Stone
Harlan Fiske Stone was an American lawyer and jurist. A native of New Hampshire, he served as the dean of Columbia Law School, his alma mater, in the early 20th century. As a member of the Republican Party, he was appointed as the 52nd Attorney General of the United States before becoming an...

 in 1925, who sought to quell concerns about his links to Wall Street
Wall Street
Wall Street refers to the financial district of New York City, named after and centered on the eight-block-long street running from Broadway to South Street on the East River in Lower Manhattan. Over time, the term has become a metonym for the financial markets of the United States as a whole, or...

, and the modern practice of questioning began with John Marshall Harlan II
John Marshall Harlan II
John Marshall Harlan was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1955 to 1971. His namesake was his grandfather John Marshall Harlan, another associate justice who served from 1877 to 1911.Harlan was a student at Upper Canada College and Appleby College and...

 in 1955. Once the committee reports out the nomination, the full Senate considers it. Rejections are relatively uncommon; the Senate has explicitly rejected twelve Supreme Court nominees, most recently Robert Bork
Robert Bork
Robert Heron Bork is an American legal scholar who has advocated the judicial philosophy of originalism. Bork formerly served as Solicitor General, Acting Attorney General, and judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit...

 in 1987.

Nevertheless, not every nominee has received a floor vote in the Senate. Although Senate rules do not necessarily allow a negative vote in committee to block a nomination, a nominee may be filibuster
Filibuster
A filibuster is a type of parliamentary procedure. Specifically, it is the right of an individual to extend debate, allowing a lone member to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal...

ed once debate has begun in the full Senate. No nomination for associate justice has ever been filibustered, but President Lyndon Johnson's nomination of sitting Associate Justice Abe Fortas
Abe Fortas
Abraham Fortas was a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice from 1965 to 1969. Originally from Tennessee, Fortas became a law professor at Yale, and subsequently advised the Securities and Exchange Commission. He then worked at the Interior Department under Franklin D...

 to succeed Earl Warren as Chief Justice was successfully filibustered in 1968. A president may also withdraw a nominee's name before the actual confirmation vote occurs, typically because it is clear that the Senate will reject them, most recently Harriet Miers
Harriet Miers
Harriet Ellan Miers is an American lawyer and former White House Counsel. In 2005, she was nominated by President George W. Bush to be an Associate Justice of the U.S...

 in 2006.

Once the Senate confirms a nomination, the president must prepare and sign a commission, to which the Seal of the Department of Justice
United States Department of Justice
The United States Department of Justice , is the United States federal executive department responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice, equivalent to the justice or interior ministries of other countries.The Department is led by the Attorney General, who is nominated...

 must be affixed, before the new justice can take office. The seniority of an associate justice is based on the commissioning date, not the confirmation or swearing-in date.

Before 1981, the approval process of justices was usually rapid. From the Truman through Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

 administrations, justices were typically approved within one month. From the Reagan administration to the present, however, the process has taken much longer. Some believe this is because Congress sees justices as playing a more political role than in the past.

Recess appointments


When the Senate is in recess, a president may make temporary appointments to fill vacancies. Recess appointees
Recess appointment
A recess appointment is the appointment, by the President of the United States, of a senior federal official while the U.S. Senate is in recess. The U.S. Constitution requires that the most senior federal officers must be confirmed by the Senate before assuming office, but while the Senate is in...

 hold office only until the end of the next Senate session (at most, less than two years). The Senate must confirm the nominee for them to continue serving; of the two chief justices and six associate justices who have received recess appointments, only Chief Justice John Rutledge
John Rutledge
John Rutledge was an American statesman and judge. He was the first Governor of South Carolina following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the 31st overall...

 was not subsequently confirmed.

No president since Dwight Eisenhower has made a recess appointment to the Court, and the practice has become rare and controversial even in lower federal courts. In 1960, after Eisenhower had made three such appointments, the Senate passed a "sense of the Senate" resolution that recess appointments to the Court should only be made in "unusual circumstances." Such resolutions are not legally binding but are an expression of Congress's views in the hope of guiding executive action.

Tenure


The Constitution provides that justices "shall hold their offices during good behavior" (unless appointed during a Senate recess). The term "good behavior" is well understood to mean justices may serve for the remainder of their lives, although they can voluntarily resign or retire. A justice can also be removed by Congressional impeachment and conviction. However, only one justice has been impeached by the House (Samuel Chase
Samuel Chase
Samuel Chase was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court and earlier was a signatory to the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of Maryland. Early in life, Chase was a "firebrand" states-righter and revolutionary...

, in 1805) and he was acquitted in the Senate. Moves to impeach sitting justices have occurred more recently (for example, William O. Douglas
William O. Douglas
William Orville Douglas was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. With a term lasting 36 years and 209 days, he is the longest-serving justice in the history of the Supreme Court...

 was the subject of hearings twice, once in 1953 and again in 1970), but they have not reached a vote in the House. No mechanism presently exists for removing a justice who is permanently incapacitated by illness or injury, both unable to resign and unable to resume service.

Because justices have indefinite tenure, timing of vacancies can be unpredictable. Sometimes vacancies arise in quick succession, as in the early 1970s when Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He developed a reputation as a judicial moderate, and was known as a master of compromise and consensus-building. He was also widely well regarded by contemporaries due to his personal good manners and...

 and William Rehnquist were nominated to replace Hugo Black
Hugo Black
Hugo Lafayette Black was an American politician and jurist. A member of the Democratic Party, Black represented Alabama in the United States Senate from 1927 to 1937, and served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1937 to 1971. Black was nominated to the Supreme...

 and John Marshall Harlan II
John Marshall Harlan II
John Marshall Harlan was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1955 to 1971. His namesake was his grandfather John Marshall Harlan, another associate justice who served from 1877 to 1911.Harlan was a student at Upper Canada College and Appleby College and...

, who retired within a week of each other. Sometimes a great length of time passes between nominations such as the eleven years between Stephen Breyer
Stephen Breyer
Stephen Gerald Breyer is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, and known for his pragmatic approach to constitutional law, Breyer is generally associated with the more liberal side of the Court....

's nomination in 1994 and the nomination of John Roberts
John Roberts
John Glover Roberts, Jr. is the 17th and current Chief Justice of the United States. He has served since 2005, having been nominated by President George W. Bush after the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist...

 in 2005 to fill the seat of Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor is an American jurist who was the first female member of the Supreme Court of the United States. She served as an Associate Justice from 1981 until her retirement from the Court in 2006. O'Connor was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981...

 (though Roberts' nomination was withdrawn and resubmitted for the role of Chief Justice after Rehnquist died).

Despite the variability, all but four Presidents have been able to appoint at least one justice. President William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison was the ninth President of the United States , an American military officer and politician, and the first president to die in office. He was 68 years, 23 days old when elected, the oldest president elected until Ronald Reagan in 1980, and last President to be born before the...

 died a month after taking office, though his successor (John Tyler
John Tyler
John Tyler was the tenth President of the United States . A native of Virginia, Tyler served as a state legislator, governor, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator before being elected Vice President . He was the first to succeed to the office of President following the death of a predecessor...

) made an appointment during that presidential term. President Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor was the 12th President of the United States and an American military leader. Initially uninterested in politics, Taylor nonetheless ran as a Whig in the 1848 presidential election, defeating Lewis Cass...

 likewise died early in his presidential term, although his successor (Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States and the last member of the Whig Party to hold the office of president...

) also made a Supreme Court nomination before the end of that term. President Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States . As Vice-President of the United States in 1865, he succeeded Abraham Lincoln following the latter's assassination. Johnson then presided over the initial and contentious Reconstruction era of the United States following the American...

 was denied the opportunity to appoint a justice by a contraction in the size of the Court (see Size of the Court above). President Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

 is the only President who completed at least one full term in office without making a nomination to the Court during his presidency.

Three presidents have appointed justices who collectively served more than 100 years: Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

, Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

 and Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

.

Current justices

Name Born Appt. by Senate conf. vote Age at appt. First day /
Length of service
Previous positions


(Chief Justice
Chief Justice of the United States
The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

)

(age )
in Buffalo, New York
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo is the second most populous city in the state of New York, after New York City. Located in Western New York on the eastern shores of Lake Erie and at the head of the Niagara River across from Fort Erie, Ontario, Buffalo is the seat of Erie County and the principal city of the...

78–22 50
Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit known informally as the D.C. Circuit, is the federal appellate court for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Appeals from the D.C. Circuit, as with all the U.S. Courts of Appeals, are heard on a...

 (2003–2005); Private practice (1993–2003); Professor, Georgetown University Law Center
Georgetown University Law Center
Georgetown University Law Center is the law school of Georgetown University, located in Washington, D.C.. Established in 1870, the Law Center offers J.D., LL.M., and S.J.D. degrees in law...

 (1992–2005); Principal Deputy Solicitor General
United States Solicitor General
The United States Solicitor General is the person appointed to represent the federal government of the United States before the Supreme Court of the United States. The current Solicitor General, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 6, 2011 and sworn in on June...

 (1989–1993); Private practice (1986–1989); Associate Counsel to the President
White House Counsel
The White House Counsel is a staff appointee of the President of the United States.-Role:The Counsel's role is to advise the President on all legal issues concerning the President and the White House...

 (1982–1986); Special Assistant to the Attorney General
United States Attorney General
The United States Attorney General is the head of the United States Department of Justice concerned with legal affairs and is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States government. The attorney general is considered to be the chief lawyer of the U.S. government...

 (1981–1982)


(age )
in Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton is the capital of the U.S. state of New Jersey and the county seat of Mercer County. As of the 2010 United States Census, Trenton had a population of 84,913...

98–0 50
Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit known informally as the D.C. Circuit, is the federal appellate court for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Appeals from the D.C. Circuit, as with all the U.S. Courts of Appeals, are heard on a...

 (1982–1986); Professor, University of Chicago Law School
University of Chicago Law School
The University of Chicago Law School was founded in 1902 as the graduate school of law at the University of Chicago and is among the most prestigious and selective law schools in the world. The U.S. News & World Report currently ranks it fifth among U.S...

 (1977–1982); Assistant Attorney General
United States Assistant Attorney General
Many of the divisions and offices of the United States Department of Justice are headed by an Assistant Attorney General.The President of the United States appoints individuals to the position of Assistant Attorney General with the advice and consent of the Senate...

 (1974–1977); Professor, University of Virginia School of Law
University of Virginia School of Law
The University of Virginia School of Law was founded in Charlottesville in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson as one of the original subjects taught at his "academical village," the University of Virginia. The law school maintains an enrollment of approximately 1,100 students in its initial degree program...

 (1967–1974); Private practice (1961–1967)


(age )
in Sacramento, California
Sacramento, California
Sacramento is the capital city of the U.S. state of California and the county seat of Sacramento County. It is located at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River in the northern portion of California's expansive Central Valley. With a population of 466,488 at the 2010 census,...

97–0 51
Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is a U.S. federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* District of Alaska* District of Arizona...

 (1975–1988); Professor, McGeorge School of Law
McGeorge School of Law
University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law is a private, ABA approved law school in the Oak Park neighborhood of the city of Sacramento, California. It is part of the University of the Pacific....

, University of the Pacific (1965–1988); Private practice (1963–1975)


(age )
in Pin Point, Georgia
Pin Point, Georgia
Pin Point is an unincorporated community in Chatham County, Georgia, in the United States; it is located southeast of Savannah, Georgia, at . Pin Point is part of the Savannah Metropolitan Statistical Area....

52–48 43
Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit known informally as the D.C. Circuit, is the federal appellate court for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Appeals from the D.C. Circuit, as with all the U.S. Courts of Appeals, are heard on a...

 (1990–1991); Chairman, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is an independent federal law enforcement agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination. The EEOC investigates discrimination complaints based on an individual's race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, perceived intelligence,...

 (1982–1990); legislative assistant
Legislative assistant
A legislative assistant is a legislative staffer who works for a legislator by monitoring pending legislation, conducting research, drafting legislation, giving advice and counsel, and making recommendations....

 for Missouri
Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

 Senator
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 John Danforth
John Danforth
John Claggett "Jack" Danforth is a former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and former Republican United States Senator from Missouri. He is an ordained Episcopal priest. Danforth is married to Sally D. Danforth and has five adult children.-Education and early career:Danforth was born...

 (1979–1981); employed by Monsanto Company Inc. (1977–1979); Assistant Attorney General
Missouri Attorney General
The Office of the Missouri Attorney General was created in 1806 when Missouri was part of the Louisiana Territory. Missouri's first Constitution in 1820 provided for an appointed Attorney General, but since the 1865 Constitution, the Attorney General has been elected...

 in Missouri
Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

 under State Attorney General
State Attorney General
The state attorney general in each of the 50 U.S. states and territories is the chief legal advisor to the state government and the state's chief law enforcement officer. In some states, the attorney general serves as the head of a state department of justice, with responsibilities similar to those...

 John Danforth
John Danforth
John Claggett "Jack" Danforth is a former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and former Republican United States Senator from Missouri. He is an ordained Episcopal priest. Danforth is married to Sally D. Danforth and has five adult children.-Education and early career:Danforth was born...

 (1974–1977)


(age )
in New York City
96–3 60
Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit known informally as the D.C. Circuit, is the federal appellate court for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Appeals from the D.C. Circuit, as with all the U.S. Courts of Appeals, are heard on a...

 (1980–1993); General Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union is a U.S. non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." It works through litigation, legislation, and...

 (1973–1980); Professor, Columbia Law School
Columbia Law School
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, is one of the oldest and most prestigious law schools in the United States. A member of the Ivy League, Columbia Law School is one of the professional graduate schools of Columbia University in New York City. It offers the J.D., LL.M., and J.S.D. degrees in...

 (1972–1980); Professor, Rutgers University School of Law
Rutgers University
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey , is the largest institution for higher education in New Jersey, United States. It was originally chartered as Queen's College in 1766. It is the eighth-oldest college in the United States and one of the nine Colonial colleges founded before the American...

 (1963–1972)


(age )
in San Francisco, California
87–9 56
Chief Judge, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* District of Maine* District of Massachusetts...

 (1990–1994); Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* District of Maine* District of Massachusetts...

 (1980–1990); Professor, Harvard Law School
Harvard Law School
Harvard Law School is one of the professional graduate schools of Harvard University. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States and is home to the largest academic law library in the world. The school is routinely ranked by the U.S...

 (1967–1980)


(age )
in Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton is the capital of the U.S. state of New Jersey and the county seat of Mercer County. As of the 2010 United States Census, Trenton had a population of 84,913...

58–42 55
Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts for the following districts:* District of Delaware* District of New Jersey...

 (1990–2006); Professor, Seton Hall University School of Law
Seton Hall University School of Law
The Seton Hall University School of Law is part of Seton Hall University, and is located in downtown Newark, New Jersey. Seton Hall Law School is the only private law school in New Jersey, and is the top-ranked of the three law schools in the state...

 (1999–2004); U.S. Attorney
United States Attorney
United States Attorneys represent the United States federal government in United States district court and United States court of appeals. There are 93 U.S. Attorneys stationed throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands...

 for the District of New Jersey (1987–1990); Deputy Assistant Attorney General
United States Assistant Attorney General
Many of the divisions and offices of the United States Department of Justice are headed by an Assistant Attorney General.The President of the United States appoints individuals to the position of Assistant Attorney General with the advice and consent of the Senate...

 (1985–1987); Assistant to the Solicitor General
United States Solicitor General
The United States Solicitor General is the person appointed to represent the federal government of the United States before the Supreme Court of the United States. The current Solicitor General, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 6, 2011 and sworn in on June...

 (1981–1985); Assistant U.S. Attorney
United States Attorney
United States Attorneys represent the United States federal government in United States district court and United States court of appeals. There are 93 U.S. Attorneys stationed throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands...

 for the District of New Jersey (1977–1981)


(age )
in New York City
68–31 55
Circuit Judge, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is one of the thirteen United States Courts of Appeals...

 (1998–2009); District Judge, District Court for the Southern District of New York
United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York is a federal district court. Appeals from the Southern District of New York are taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (in case...

 (1992–1998); Private practice (1984–1991); Assistant District Attorney, New York County, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 (1979–1984)


(age )
in New York City
63–37 50
Solicitor General of the United States (2009–2010); Dean of Harvard Law School
Dean of Harvard Law School
The Dean of Harvard Law School is the head of Harvard Law School. The current Dean is Martha Minow, the 12th person, and second woman to hold the post.-List of Deans of Harvard Law School:...

 (2003–2009); Professor, Harvard Law School
Harvard Law School
Harvard Law School is one of the professional graduate schools of Harvard University. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States and is home to the largest academic law library in the world. The school is routinely ranked by the U.S...

 (2001–2003); Visiting Professor, Harvard Law School
Harvard Law School
Harvard Law School is one of the professional graduate schools of Harvard University. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States and is home to the largest academic law library in the world. The school is routinely ranked by the U.S...

 (1999–2001); Associate White House Counsel
White House Counsel
The White House Counsel is a staff appointee of the President of the United States.-Role:The Counsel's role is to advise the President on all legal issues concerning the President and the White House...

 (1995–1999); Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council (1995–1999); Professor, University of Chicago Law School
University of Chicago Law School
The University of Chicago Law School was founded in 1902 as the graduate school of law at the University of Chicago and is among the most prestigious and selective law schools in the world. The U.S. News & World Report currently ranks it fifth among U.S...

 (1995); Associate Professor, University of Chicago Law School
University of Chicago Law School
The University of Chicago Law School was founded in 1902 as the graduate school of law at the University of Chicago and is among the most prestigious and selective law schools in the world. The U.S. News & World Report currently ranks it fifth among U.S...

 (1991–1995)

Court demographics



The Court currently has six male and three female justices. One justice is African American, one is Latino, and two are Italian-Americans; six justices are Roman Catholics, and three are Jewish. The average age is , and every current justice has an Ivy League
Ivy League
The Ivy League is an athletic conference comprising eight private institutions of higher education in the Northeastern United States. The conference name is also commonly used to refer to those eight schools as a group...

 background.

In the 19th century, every justice was a Caucasian
Caucasian race
The term Caucasian race has been used to denote the general physical type of some or all of the populations of Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Western Asia , Central Asia and South Asia...

 male, and concerns about diversity focused on geography, to represent all regions
Regionalism (politics)
Regionalism is a term used in international relations. Regionalism also constitutes one of the three constituents of the international commercial system...

 of the country, rather than ethnic, religious, or gender diversity. Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, serving from October 1967 until October 1991...

 became the first African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 Justice in 1967, and Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor is an American jurist who was the first female member of the Supreme Court of the United States. She served as an Associate Justice from 1981 until her retirement from the Court in 2006. O'Connor was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981...

 became the first female Justice in 1981. O'Connor, whose appointment fulfilled Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

's campaign promise to place a woman on the Court, was later joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appointed by Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

 in 1993. Marshall was succeeded by Clarence Thomas
Clarence Thomas
Clarence Thomas is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Succeeding Thurgood Marshall, Thomas is the second African American to serve on the Court....

, and in 2009, Ginsburg was joined by Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Maria Sotomayor is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, serving since August 2009. Sotomayor is the Court's 111th justice, its first Hispanic justice, and its third female justice....

, the first Latino
Hispanic and Latino Americans
Hispanic or Latino Americans are Americans with origins in the Hispanic countries of Latin America or in Spain, and in general all persons in the United States who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino.1990 Census of Population and Housing: A self-designated classification for people whose origins...

 justice.

Most justices have been Protestants, including thirty-five Episcopalians, nineteen Presbyterians, ten Unitarians
Unitarianism
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

, five Methodists, and three Baptists. The first Catholic justice was Roger Taney in 1836, and 1916 saw the appointment of the first Jewish
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 justice, Louis Brandeis
Louis Brandeis
Louis Dembitz Brandeis ; November 13, 1856 – October 5, 1941) was an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939.He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Jewish immigrant parents who raised him in a secular mode...

. In recent years this situation has reversed: upon the retirement of Justice Stevens
John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from December 19, 1975 until his retirement on June 29, 2010. At the time of his retirement, he was the oldest member of the Court and the third-longest serving justice in the Court's history...

, the Court is without a Protestant for the first time in its history.

Retired justices



There are three living retired justices: John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from December 19, 1975 until his retirement on June 29, 2010. At the time of his retirement, he was the oldest member of the Court and the third-longest serving justice in the Court's history...

, Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor is an American jurist who was the first female member of the Supreme Court of the United States. She served as an Associate Justice from 1981 until her retirement from the Court in 2006. O'Connor was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981...

, and David Souter
David Souter
David Hackett Souter is a former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He served from 1990 until his retirement on June 29, 2009. Appointed by President George H. W. Bush to fill the seat vacated by William J...

. They may be designated to sit on panels of the United States Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals
The United States courts of appeals are the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal court system...

, but never sit as members of the Supreme Court itself.

Seniority and seating


Many of the internal operations of the Court are organized by the seniority
Seniority
Seniority is the concept of a person or group of people being in charge or in command of another person or group. This control is often granted to the senior person due to experience or length of service in a given position, but it is not uncommon for a senior person to have less experience or...

 of the justices; the Chief Justice is considered the most senior member of the Court, regardless of the length of his or her service. The Associate Justices are then ranked by the length of their service.

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: Sotomayor, Breyer, Thomas, Scalia (most senior Associate Justice), Roberts (Chief Justice), Kennedy, Ginsburg, Alito, and Kagan. In the official yearly Court photograph, justices are arranged similarly, with the five most senior members sitting in the front row in the same order as they would sit during Court sessions (Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg), and the four most junior justices standing behind them, again in the same order as they would sit during Court sessions (Sotomayor, Breyer, Alito, Kagan).

In the justices' private conferences, the current practice is for them to speak and vote in order of seniority from the Chief Justice first to the most junior Associate Justice last. The most junior Associate Justice in these conferences is tasked with any menial labor the justices may require as they convene alone, such as answering the door of their conference room, serving coffee, and transmitting the orders of the Court to the court's clerk.
Justice Joseph Story
Joseph Story
Joseph Story was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1811 to 1845. He is most remembered today for his opinions in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee and The Amistad, along with his magisterial Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, first...

 served the longest as the junior justice, from February 3, 1812, to September 1, 1823, for a total of 4,228 days. Justice Stephen Breyer
Stephen Breyer
Stephen Gerald Breyer is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, and known for his pragmatic approach to constitutional law, Breyer is generally associated with the more liberal side of the Court....

 follows close behind, with 4,199 days when Samuel Alito
Samuel Alito
Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and has served on the court since January 31, 2006....

 joined the court on January 31, 2006.

Salary


For the years 2009 and 2010, associate justices have been paid $213,900 and the chief justice $223,500. Article III, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from reducing the pay for incumbent justices. Once a justice meets age and service requirements, the justice may retire and earn his or her final salary for life, plus cost of living increases.

Judicial leanings


While justices do not represent or receive official endorsements from political parties, as is accepted practice in the legislative and executive branches, jurists are informally categorized in legal and political circles as being judicial conservatives, moderates, or liberals. Such leanings, however, refer to legal outlook rather than a political or legislative one, because Supreme Court justices are not members of the executive or legislative branches.

As of the October 2010 term of the Court, the Court consists of five justices appointed by Republican Presidents, and four appointed by Democratic Presidents. It is popularly accepted that Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito comprise the Court's conservative wing. Justices Ginsburg and Breyer are generally thought of as the Court's liberal wing; after one term on the Court, Justice Sotomayor is also seen as a member of the liberal wing, voting much as her predecessor, Justice Souter, might have voted. John McGinnis
John McGinnis
John Oldham McGinnis is a professor at Northwestern University School of Law and author of over 90 academic and popular articles and essays. His popular writings have been published in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, and Policy Review....

, a law professor at Northwestern University School of Law
Northwestern University School of Law
The Northwestern University School of Law is a private American law school in Chicago, Illinois. The law school was founded in 1859 as the Union College of Law of the Old University of Chicago. The first law school established in Chicago, it became jointly controlled by Northwestern University in...

, stated that Sotomayor "appears to be a typical member of the liberal wing", but noted that experts have said justices do not come into their own until they have served five years or so, pointing to Souter's first year as an example; however, McGinnis also noted that Sotomayor has a longer judicial track record than Souter did. According to statistics compiled by SCOTUSblog
SCOTUSblog
SCOTUSblog is a law blog written by lawyers and law students about the Supreme Court of the United States . The blog is sponsored by Bloomberg Law. The blog's first post occurred October 1, 2002. The blog moved to its current address on February 7, 2005. In the same year, it was featured by...

, during the 2009 term Sotomayor agreed most often with Ginsburg and Breyer (90% of the time in full, in part, or in judgment, second only to the 92% agreement between Scalia and Thomas), and disagreed most often with Scalia and Alito (31% of the time).
Justice Anthony Kennedy
Anthony Kennedy
Anthony McLeod Kennedy is an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, having been appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Since the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor, Kennedy has often been the swing vote on many of the Court's politically charged 5–4 decisions...

, generally considered a conservative who "occasionally vote[s] with the liberals", is often the swing vote
Swing vote
Swing vote is a term used to describe a vote that may go to any of a number of candidates in an election, or, in a two-party system, may go to either of the two dominant political parties...

 that determines the outcome of close cases.

In an article in SCOTUSblog
SCOTUSblog
SCOTUSblog is a law blog written by lawyers and law students about the Supreme Court of the United States . The blog is sponsored by Bloomberg Law. The blog's first post occurred October 1, 2002. The blog moved to its current address on February 7, 2005. In the same year, it was featured by...

, Tom Goldstein
Tom Goldstein
Thomas C. Goldstein is an American attorney famous as an advocate before and blogger about the Supreme Court of the United States. He was a founding partner of Goldstein and Howe, a Washington, D.C. firm specializing in Supreme Court litigation, and was, until the end of 2010, a partner at Akin...

 argues that the popular view of the Supreme Court as sharply divided along ideological lines and each side pushing an agenda at every turn is "in significant part a caricature designed to fit certain preconceptions." He points out that in the 2009 term, almost half the cases were decided unanimously, and only about 20% decided by a 5-to-4 vote; barely one in ten cases involved the narrow liberal/conservative divide (fewer if the cases where Sotomayor recused herself are not included). He also points to several cases that seem to fly against the popular conception of the ideological lines of the Court.
Goldstein argues that the large number of pro-criminal-defendant summary dismissals
Summary judgment
In law, a summary judgment is a determination made by a court without a full trial. Such a judgment may be issued as to the merits of an entire case, or of specific issues in that case....

 (usually cases where the justices decide that the lower courts significantly misapplied precedent and reverse the case without briefing or argument) are an illustration that the conservative justices have not been aggressively ideological. Likewise, Goldstein states that the critique that the liberal justices are more likely to invalidate acts of Congress, show inadequate deference to the political process, and be disrespectful of precedent, also lacks merit: Thomas has most often called for overruling prior precedent (even if long standing) that he views as having been wrongly decided, and during the 2009 term Scalia and Thomas voted most often to invalidate legislation.

According to statistics compiled by SCOTUSblog
SCOTUSblog
SCOTUSblog is a law blog written by lawyers and law students about the Supreme Court of the United States . The blog is sponsored by Bloomberg Law. The blog's first post occurred October 1, 2002. The blog moved to its current address on February 7, 2005. In the same year, it was featured by...

,
the Court decided 86 cases in the October 2010 term, including 75 signed opinions, 5 summary reversals (where the Court reverses a lower court without arguments and without issuing an opinion on the case), four were decided with unsigned opinions, two cases affirmed by an equally divided Court, and two cases were dismissed as improvidently granted. Justice Kagan recused herself from 26 of those cases due to her prior role as United States Solicitor General
United States Solicitor General
The United States Solicitor General is the person appointed to represent the federal government of the United States before the Supreme Court of the United States. The current Solicitor General, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 6, 2011 and sworn in on June...

. Of the 80 cases, 38 (about 48%, the highest percentage since the October 2005 term) were decided unanimously (9-0 or 8-0), and only 16 decisions were made by a 5-4 vote (about 20%, compared to 18% in the October 2009 term, and 29% in the October 2008 term).
However, in the 5-4 decisions, the Court divided along the traditional ideological lines (with Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan on one side, and Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito on the other, with Kennedy providing the "swing vote") in 14 of those 16 cases (87% of the time, the highest rate in the past 10 years). The conservative bloc, joined by Kennedy, formed the majority in 63% of the 5-4 decisions, the highest cohesion rate of that bloc in the Roberts court.

Politicization of the Court


Clerks hired by each of the justices of the Supreme Court are often given considerable leeway in the opinions they draft. "Supreme Court clerkship appeared to be a nonpartisan institution from the 1940s into the 1980s", according to a study published in 2009 by the law review of Vanderbilt University Law School. "As law has moved closer to mere politics, political affiliations have naturally and predictably become proxies for the different political agendas that have been pressed in and through the courts", former federal court of appeals judge J. Michael Luttig
J. Michael Luttig
J. Michael Luttig is an American lawyer and a former federal appellate court judge.-Education and early work:Born in Tyler, Texas, Luttig graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1976. He then attended the University of Virginia School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctor degree in...

 said. David J. Garrow, professor of history at the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

, stated that the Court had thus begun to mirror the political branches of government. "We are getting a composition of the clerk workforce that is getting to be like the House of Representatives", Professor Garrow said. "Each side is putting forward only ideological purists."

According to the Vanderbilt Law Review study, this politicized hiring trend reinforces the impression that the Supreme Court is "a superlegislature responding to ideological arguments rather than a legal institution responding to concerns grounded in the rule of law."

Facilities


The Supreme Court first met on February 1, 1790, at the Merchants' Exchange Building in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

. When Philadelphia became the capital, the Court met briefly in Independence Hall before settling in Old City Hall
Old City Hall (Philadelphia)
Old City Hall was built to serve as the city hall of Philadelphia. According to the National Park Service, which runs the historic site, the building was the home of the U.S...

 from 1791 until 1800. After the government moved to Washington, D.C., the Court occupied various spaces in the United States Capitol
United States Capitol
The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the federal government of the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., it sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall...

 building until 1935, when it moved into its own purpose-built home. The four-story building was designed by Cass Gilbert
Cass Gilbert
- Historical impact :Gilbert is considered a skyscraper pioneer; when designing the Woolworth Building he moved into unproven ground — though he certainly was aware of the ground-breaking work done by Chicago architects on skyscrapers and once discussed merging firms with the legendary Daniel...

 in a classical style sympathetic to the surrounding buildings of the Capitol
United States Capitol
The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the federal government of the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., it sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall...

 and Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

, and is clad in marble. The building includes the courtroom, justices' chambers, an extensive law library
Law library
A law library is a library designed to assist law students, attorneys, judges, and their law clerks and anyone else who finds it necessary to correctly determine the state of the law....

, various meeting spaces, and auxiliary services including a gymnasium. The Supreme Court building is within the ambit of the Architect of the Capitol
Architect of the Capitol
The Architect of the Capitol is the federal agency responsible for the maintenance, operation, development, and preservation of the United States Capitol Complex, and also the head of that agency. The Architect of the Capitol is in the legislative branch and is responsible to the United States...

, but maintains its own police force
Supreme Court Police
The Supreme Court of the United States Police is a small U.S. federal law enforcement agency headquartered in the District of Columbia, whose mission is to ensure the integrity of the constitutional mission of the U.S. Supreme Court by protecting the Supreme Court building, the Justices, employees,...

 separate from the Capitol Police
United States Capitol Police
The United States Capitol Police is a federal police force charged with protecting the United States Congress within the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its territories.-History:...

.

Located across the street from the United States Capitol
United States Capitol
The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the federal government of the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., it sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall...

 at One First Street NE and Maryland Avenue, the building is open to the public from 9 am to 4:30 pm weekdays but closed on weekends and holiday
Federal holiday
In the United States, a federal holiday is a public holiday recognized by the United States federal government. Non-essential federal government offices are closed...

s. Visitors may not tour the courtroom itself unaccompanied. There is a cafeteria, a gift shop, exhibits, and a half-hour informational film. When the Court is not in session, lectures about the courtroom are held hourly from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm and reservations are not necessary. When the Court is in session the public may attend oral arguments, which are held twice each morning (and sometimes afternoons) on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays in two-week intervals from October through late April, with breaks during December and February. Visitors are seated on a first-come first-served basis. One estimate is there are about 250 seats available. The number of open seats varies from case to case; for important cases, some visitors arrive the day before and wait through the night. From mid-May until the end of June, the court releases orders and opinions beginning at 10 am, and these 15 to 30-minute sessions are open to the public on a similar basis. Supreme Court Police are available to answer questions.

Jurisdiction


Section 2 of Article Three of the United States Constitution
Article Three of the United States Constitution
Article Three of the United States Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the federal government. The judicial branch comprises the Supreme Court of the United States and lower courts as created by Congress.-Section 1: Federal courts:...

 outlines the jurisdiction of the federal courts of the United States:
The jurisdiction of the federal courts was further limited by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was passed by the Congress on March 4, 1794, and was ratified on February 7, 1795, deals with each state's sovereign immunity. This amendment was adopted in order to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Chisholm v...

, which forbade 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, states may waive this immunity, and Congress may abrogate the states' immunity in certain circumstances (see Sovereign immunity). In addition to constitutional constraints, Congress is authorized by Article III to regulate the court's appellate jurisdiction: for example, the federal courts may hear cases only if one or more of the following conditions are met:
  • 1. diversity of citizenship
    Diversity jurisdiction
    In the law of the United States, diversity jurisdiction is a form of subject-matter jurisdiction in civil procedure in which a United States district court has the power to hear a civil case where the persons that are parties are "diverse" in citizenship, which generally indicates that they are...

     (meaning, the parties are residents of two different states or countries, including foreign states), plus a controversy of at least $75,000.
  • 2. If the case asks a federal question.
  • 3. If the United States federal government (including the Post Office) is a party in the case.


Exercise of this power (for example, , as amended by the Detainee Treatment Act
Detainee Treatment Act
The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 is an Act of the United States Congress that prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners, including prisoners at Guantanamo Bay; requires military interrogations to be performed according to the U.S...

, provides that "No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.") can become controversial; see Jurisdiction stripping
Jurisdiction stripping
Jurisdiction stripping, also called curtailment of jurisdiction or court stripping, refers to the congressional practice of defining the jurisdiction of the United States federal judiciary as to eliminate its ability to hear certain classes of claims, thereby making certain legislative or executive...

.

The Constitution specifies that the Supreme Court may exercise original jurisdiction
Original jurisdiction
The original jurisdiction of a court is the power to hear a case for the first time, as opposed to appellate jurisdiction, when a court has the power to review a lower court's decision.-France:...

 in cases affecting ambassadors and other diplomats, and in cases in which a state is a party. In all other cases, however, the Court has only appellate jurisdiction. It 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
Judiciary Act of 1789
The United States Judiciary Act of 1789 was a landmark statute adopted on September 24, 1789 in the first session of the First United States Congress establishing the U.S. federal judiciary...

 and upheld early in the Court's history, by its rulings in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee
Martin v. Hunter's Lessee
Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, , was a landmark United States Supreme Court case decided on March 20, 1816. It was the first case to assert ultimate Supreme Court authority over state courts in matters of federal law.-Background:...

 (1816) and Cohens v. Virginia
Cohens v. Virginia
Cohens v. Virginia, , was a United States Supreme Court decision most noted for John Marshall and the Court's assertion of its power to review state supreme court decisions in criminal law matters when the plaintiff claims that their Constitutional rights have been violated...

 (1821). The Supreme Court is the only federal court that has jurisdiction over direct appeals from state court decisions, although there are several devices that permit so-called "collateral review" of state cases.

Since Article Three of the United States Constitution stipulates that federal courts may only entertain "cases" or "controversies", the Supreme Court avoids deciding cases that are moot and does not render advisory opinions, as the supreme courts of some states may do. For example, in DeFunis v. Odegaard
DeFunis v. Odegaard
DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312 , was a United States Supreme Court case decided on April 23, 1974, that was determined to be moot, and therefore could not go forward...

, , the Court dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a law school affirmative action policy because the plaintiff student had graduated since he began the lawsuit, and a decision from the Court on his claim would not be able to redress any injury he had suffered. The mootness exception is not absolute. If an issue is "capable of repetition yet evading review", the Court will address it even though the party before the Court would not himself be made whole by a favorable result. In Roe v. Wade, , and other abortion cases, the Court addresses the merits of claims pressed by pregnant women seeking abortions even if they are no longer pregnant because it takes longer than the typical human gestation period to appeal a case through the lower courts to the Supreme Court.

Justices as Circuit Justices


The United States is divided into thirteen circuit courts of appeals
United States court of appeals
The United States courts of appeals are the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal court system...

, each of which is assigned a "Circuit Justice" from the Supreme Court. Although this concept has been in continuous existence throughout the history of the republic, its meaning has changed through time.

Under the Judiciary Act of 1789
Judiciary Act of 1789
The United States Judiciary Act of 1789 was a landmark statute adopted on September 24, 1789 in the first session of the First United States Congress establishing the U.S. federal judiciary...

, each Justice was required to "ride circuit", or to travel within the assigned circuit and consider cases alongside local judges. This practice encountered opposition from many Justices, who cited the difficulty of travel. Moreover, several individuals opposed it because 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. Today, the duties of a "Circuit Justice" are generally limited to receiving and deciding requests for stays in cases coming from the circuit or circuits to which the Justice is assigned, and other clerical tasks such as addressing certain requests for extensions of time. A Circuit Justice may (but in practice almost never does) sit as a judge of that circuit. When he or she does so, a Circuit Justice has seniority over the Chief Judge of that circuit.

The Chief Justice is traditionally assigned to the District of Columbia Circuit, the Federal Circuit and the Fourth Circuit, which includes Maryland and Virginia, the states surrounding the District of Columbia. Each Associate Justice is assigned to one or two judicial circuits.

As of September 28, 2010, the allotment of the justices among the circuits is:
Circuit Justice
District of Columbia Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit known informally as the D.C. Circuit, is the federal appellate court for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Appeals from the D.C. Circuit, as with all the U.S. Courts of Appeals, are heard on a...

 
Chief Justice Roberts
First Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* District of Maine* District of Massachusetts...

 
Justice Breyer
Second Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is one of the thirteen United States Courts of Appeals...

 
Justice Ginsburg
Third Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts for the following districts:* District of Delaware* District of New Jersey...

 
Justice Alito
Fourth Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is a federal court located in Richmond, Virginia, with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:*District of Maryland*Eastern District of North Carolina...

 
Chief Justice Roberts
Fifth Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* Eastern District of Louisiana* Middle District of Louisiana...

 
Justice Scalia
Sixth Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* Eastern District of Kentucky* Western District of Kentucky...

 
Justice Kagan
Seventh Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the courts in the following districts:* Central District of Illinois* Northern District of Illinois...

 
Justice Kagan
Eighth Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* Eastern District of Arkansas* Western District of Arkansas...

 
Justice Alito
Ninth Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is a U.S. federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* District of Alaska* District of Arizona...

 
Justice Kennedy
Tenth Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* District of Colorado* District of Kansas...

 
Justice Sotomayor
Eleventh Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following districts:* Middle District of Alabama...

 
Justice Thomas
Federal Circuit
United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
-Vacancies and pending nominations:-List of former judges:-Chief judges:Notwithstanding the foregoing, when the court was initially created, Congress had to resolve which chief judge of the predecessor courts would become the first chief judge...

 
Chief Justice Roberts


Four of the current Justices are assigned to circuits on which they once sat as circuit judges: Chief Justice Roberts (D.C. Circuit), Justice Breyer (First Circuit), Justice Alito (Third Circuit), and Justice Kennedy (Ninth Circuit).

Process


A term of the Supreme Court commences on the first Monday of each October, and continues until June or early July of the following year. Each term consists of alternating periods of approximately two weeks known as "sittings" and "recesses." Justices hear cases and deliver rulings during sittings; they discuss cases and write opinions during recesses.

Case selection


Nearly all cases come before the court by way of petitions for writs of certiorari, commonly referred to as "cert". The Court may review any case in the federal courts of appeals "by writ of certiorari granted upon the petition of any party to any civil or criminal case". The Court may only review "final judgments rendered by the highest court of a state in which a decision could be had" if those judgments involve a question of federal statutory or constitutional law. The party that lost in the lower court is the petitioner
Petitioner
A petitioner is a person who pleads with governmental institution for a legal remedy or a redress of grievances, through use of a petition.-In the courts:The petitioner may seek a legal remedy if the state or another private person has acted unlawfully...

 and the party that prevailed is the respondent
Defendant
A defendant or defender is any party who is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff or pursuer in a civil lawsuit before a court, or any party who has been formally charged or accused of violating a criminal statute...

. All case names before the Court are styled petitioner v. respondent, regardless of which party initiated the lawsuit in the trial court. For example, criminal prosecutions are brought in the name of the state and against an individual, as in State of Arizona v. Ernesto Miranda. If the defendant is convicted, and his conviction then is affirmed on appeal in the state supreme court, when he petitions for cert the name of the case becomes Miranda v. Arizona
Miranda v. Arizona
Miranda v. Arizona, , was a landmark 5–4 decision of the United States Supreme Court. The Court held that both inculpatory and exculpatory statements made in response to interrogation by a defendant in police custody will be admissible at trial only if the prosecution can show that the defendant...

.

There are situations where the Court has original jurisdiction, such as when two states have a dispute against each other, or when there is a dispute between the United States and a state. In such instances, a case is filed with the Supreme Court directly. Examples of such cases include United States v. Texas, a case to determine whether a parcel of land belonged to the United States or to Texas, and Virginia v. Tennessee
Virginia v. Tennessee
Virginia v. Tennessee, 148 U.S. 503 , was a decision of the United States Supreme Court, which had two questions: What is the correct boundary between the two states, and if the boundary was inaccurately set, can the state ask the court to change it? Does an agreement setting the boundary...

, a case turning on whether an incorrectly drawn boundary between two states can be changed by a state court, and whether the setting of the correct boundary requires Congressional approval. Although it has not happened since 1794 in the case of Georgia v. Brailsford
Georgia v. Brailsford
Georgia v. Brailsford is the name of three Supreme Court of the United States decisions:*Georgia v. Brailsford 2 U.S. 402, involving state rights to collect debt from foreign citizens*Georgia v. Brailsford 2 U.S. 415...

, parties in an action at law in which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction may request that a jury
Jury
A jury is a sworn body of people convened to render an impartial verdict officially submitted to them by a court, or to set a penalty or judgment. Modern juries tend to be found in courts to ascertain the guilt, or lack thereof, in a crime. In Anglophone jurisdictions, the verdict may be guilty,...

 determine issues of fact.

The common shorthand name for cases is typically the first party (the petitioner). For example, Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 , was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which...

 is referred to simply as Brown, and Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade, , was a controversial landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. The Court decided that a right to privacy under the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution extends to a woman's decision to have an abortion,...

 as Roe. The exception to this rule is when the name of a state, or the United States, or some government entity, is the first listed party. In that instance, the name of the second party is the shorthand name. For example, Iowa v. Tovar is referred to simply as Tovar, and Gonzales v. Raich
Gonzales v. Raich
Gonzales v. Raich , 545 U.S. 1 , was a decision by the United States Supreme Court ruling that under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, the United States Congress may criminalize the production and use of home-grown cannabis even where states approve its use for medicinal...

 is referred to simply as Raich, because the first party, Alberto Gonzales
Alberto Gonzales
Alberto R. Gonzales was the 80th Attorney General of the United States. Gonzales was appointed to the post in February 2005 by President George W. Bush. Gonzales was the first Hispanic Attorney General in U.S. history and the highest-ranking Hispanic government official ever...

, was sued in his official capacity as the United States Attorney General
United States Attorney General
The United States Attorney General is the head of the United States Department of Justice concerned with legal affairs and is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States government. The attorney general is considered to be the chief lawyer of the U.S. government...

.

A cert petition is voted on at a session of the court called a conference. A conference is a private meeting of the nine Justices by themselves; the public and the Justices' clerks are excluded. If four Justices vote to grant the petition, the case proceeds to the briefing stage; otherwise, the case ends. Except in death penalty cases and other cases in which the Court orders briefing from the respondent, the respondent may, but is not required to, file a response to the cert petition.

The court grants a petition for cert only for "compelling reasons", spelled out in the court's Rule 10. Such reasons include:
  • Resolving a conflict in the interpretation of a federal law or a provision of the federal Constitution
  • Correcting an egregious departure from the accepted and usual course of judicial proceedings
  • Resolving an important question of federal law, or to expressly review a decision of a lower court that conflicts directly with a previous decision of the Court.

When a conflict of interpretations arises from differing interpretations of the same law or constitutional provision issued by different federal circuit courts of appeals, lawyers call this situation a "circuit split". If the court votes to deny a cert petition, as it does in the vast majority of such petitions that come before it, it does so typically without comment. A denial of a cert petition is not a judgment on the merits of a case, and the decision of the lower court stands as the final ruling in the case.

To manage the high volume of cert petitions received by the Court each year (of the more than 7,000 petitions the Court receives each year, it will usually request briefing and hear oral argument in 100 or fewer), the Court employs an internal case management tool known as the "cert pool
Cert pool
The "cert. pool" is a mechanism by which the U.S. Supreme Court manages the influx of petitions for certiorari to the court. It was instituted in 1973, as one of the institutional reforms of Chief Justice Warren E...

." Currently, all justices except for Justice Alito participate in the cert pool.

Oral argument


When the Court grants a cert petition, the case is set for oral argument. At this point, both parties file briefs on the merits of the case, as distinct from reasons the parties may urge for granting or denying the cert petition. With the consent of the parties or approval of the Court, amici curiae
Amicus curiae
An amicus curiae is someone, not a party to a case, who volunteers to offer information to assist a court in deciding a matter before it...

, or "friends of the court", may also file briefs. The Court holds two-week oral argument sessions each month from October through April. Each side has thirty minutes to present its argument, and during that time, the Justices may interrupt the advocate and ask questions. The petitioner gives the first presentation, and may reserve some time to rebut the respondent's arguments after the respondent has concluded. Amici curiae may also present oral argument on behalf of one party if that party agrees. The Court advises counsel to assume that the Justices are familiar with and have read the briefs filed in a case.

Decision


At the conclusion of oral argument, the case is submitted for decision. Cases are decided by majority vote of the Justices. It is the Court's practice to issue decisions in all cases argued in a particular Term by the end of that Term. Within that Term, however, the Court is under no obligation to release a decision within any set time after oral argument. At the conclusion of oral argument, the Justices retire to another conference at which the preliminary votes are tallied, and the most senior Justice in the majority assigns the initial draft of the Court's opinion to a Justice on his or her side. Drafts of the Court's opinion, as well as any concurring or dissenting opinions, circulate among the Justices until the Court is prepared to announce the judgment in a particular case.

It is possible that, through recusals or vacancies, the Court divides evenly on a case. If that occurs, then the decision of the court below is affirmed, but does not establish binding precedent. In effect, it results in a return to the status quo ante
Status quo
Statu quo, a commonly used form of the original Latin "statu quo" – literally "the state in which" – is a Latin term meaning the current or existing state of affairs. To maintain the status quo is to keep the things the way they presently are...

. For a case to be heard, there must be a quorum of at least six justices. If a quorum is not available to hear a case and a majority of qualified justices believes that the case cannot be heard and determined in the next term, then the judgment of the court below is affirmed as if the Court had been evenly divided. For cases brought directly to the Supreme Court by direct appeal from a United States District Court, the Chief Justice may order the case remanded to the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals for a final decision there. This has only occurred once in U.S. history, in the case of United States v. Alcoa
United States v. Alcoa
United States v. Alcoa, 148 F.2d 416 , is a landmark decision concerning United States antitrust law. Judge Learned Hand's opinion is notable for its discussion of determining the relevant market for market share analysis and—more importantly—its discussion of the circumstances under...

.

Published opinions


The Court's opinions are published in three stages. First, a slip opinion is made available on the Court's web site and through other outlets. Next, several opinions are bound together in paperback form, called a preliminary print of United States Reports
United States Reports
The United States Reports are the official record of the rulings, orders, case tables, and other proceedings of the Supreme Court of the United States. Opinions of the court in each case, prepended with a headnote prepared by the Reporter of Decisions, and any concurring or dissenting opinions are...

, the official series of books in which the final version of the Court's opinions appears. About a year after the preliminary prints are issued, a final bound volume of U.S. Reports is issued. The individual volumes of U.S. Reports are numbered so that users may cite this set of reports—or a competing version published by another commercial legal publisher—to allow those who read their pleadings and other briefs to find the cases quickly and easily.

, there are 548 volumes of U.S. Reports. Lawyers use an abbreviated format to cite cases, in the form vvv U.S. ppp (yyyy). The number before the "U.S." refers to the volume number, and the number after the U.S. refers to the page within that volume. The number in parentheses is the year in which the case was decided. For instance, the citation for Roe v. Wade is 410 U.S. 113 (1973) and it means the case was decided in 1973 and appears on page 113 of volume 410 of U.S. Reports. For hot-from-the-press judgments, the volume and page numbers are replaced with "___".

Institutional powers and constraints


The Constitution does not explicitly grant the Supreme Court the power of judicial review
Judicial review
Judicial review is the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review by the judiciary. Specific courts with judicial review power must annul the acts of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher authority...

; nevertheless, the power of this 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
Federalist No. 78
Federalist No. 78 is an essay by Alexander Hamilton, the seventy-eighth of the Federalist Papers. Like all of the Federalist Papers, it was published under the pseudonym Publius....

, Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

 wrote: "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
Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison, is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring...

 (1803), consummating the system of checks and balances. This power allows judges to have the last word on allocation of authority among the three branches of the federal government, which grants them the ability to set bounds to their own authority, as well as to their immunity from outside 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
Nonacquiescence
In law, nonacquiescence is when one branch of the government fails to comply with the decision of another. In the context of lawsuits, executive nonacquiescence in judicial decisions can lead to bizarre Kafkaesque situations where parties discover to their chagrin that their legal victory over the...

 came in 1832, when the state of Georgia
Georgia (U.S. state)
Georgia is a state located in the southeastern United States. It was established in 1732, the last of the original Thirteen Colonies. The state is named after King George II of Great Britain. Georgia was the fourth state to ratify the United States Constitution, on January 2, 1788...

 ignored the Supreme Court's decision in Worcester v. Georgia
Worcester v. Georgia
Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. 515 , was a case in which the United States Supreme Court vacated the conviction of Samuel Worcester and held that the Georgia criminal statute that prohibited non-Indians from being present on Indian lands without a license from the state was unconstitutional.The...

. President Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

, who sided with the Georgia courts, is supposed to have remarked, "John Marshall
John Marshall
John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

 has made his decision; now let him enforce it!"; however, this alleged quotation has been disputed. Some state governments in the South
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

 also resisted the desegregation of public schools after the 1954 judgment Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 , was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which...

. More recently, many feared that President Nixon would refuse to comply with the Court's order in United States v. Nixon
United States v. Nixon
United States v. Nixon, , was a landmark United States Supreme Court decision. It was a unanimous 8-0 ruling involving President Richard Nixon and was important to the late stages of the Watergate scandal. It is considered a crucial precedent limiting the power of any U.S. president.Chief Justice...

 (1974) to surrender the Watergate tapes
Watergate tapes
The Watergate tapes, a subset of the Nixon tapes, are a collection of recordings of conversations between Richard Nixon and his fellow conspirators plotting a break in to the Watergate Hotel. U.S. President Richard Nixon and various White House staff started communicating on February 1971 and...

. Nixon, however, ultimately complied with the Supreme Court's ruling.

Some argue that the Supreme Court is "the most separated and least checked of all branches of government."
Justices are not required to stand for election by virtue of their tenure "during good behavior", and their pay may "not be diminished" while they hold their position (Section 1 of Article Three). Though subject to the process of impeachment, only one Justice has ever been impeached and no Supreme Court Justice has been removed from office. Supreme Court decisions have been purposefully overridden by constitutional amendment in only four instances: the Eleventh Amendment overturned Chisholm v. Georgia
Chisholm v. Georgia
Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 , is considered the first United States Supreme Court case of significance and impact. Given its date, there is little available legal precedent...

 (1793); the Thirteenth
Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution officially abolished and continues to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. It was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, passed by the House on January 31, 1865, and adopted on December 6, 1865. On...

 and Fourteenth
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the Dred Scott v...

 Amendments in effect overturned Dred Scott v. Sandford
Dred Scott v. Sandford
Dred Scott v. Sandford, , also known as the Dred Scott Decision, was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S...

 (1857); the Sixteenth Amendment
Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution allows the Congress to levy an income tax without apportioning it among the states or basing it on Census results...

 reversed Pollock v. Farmers' Loan and Trust Co. (1895); and the Twenty-sixth Amendment
Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution limited the minimum voting age to no more than 18. It was adopted in response to student activism against the Vietnam War and to partially overrule the Supreme Court's decision in Oregon v. Mitchell...

 overturned some portions of Oregon v. Mitchell
Oregon v. Mitchell
Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112 , was a case in the USA in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that states could set their own age limits for state elections....

 (1970). However, when the Court rules on matters involving the interpretation of laws rather than of the Constitution, simple legislative action can reverse the decisions (for example, in 2009 Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter act, superseding the limitations given in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618 , is an employment discrimination decision of the Supreme Court of the United States. Justice Alito held for the five-justice majority that employers cannot be sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act over race or gender pay discrimination...

 in 2007). Also, the Supreme Court is not immune from political and institutional restraints: lower federal courts and state courts sometimes resist doctrinal innovations, as do law enforcement officials.

In addition, the other two branches can restrain the Court through other mechanisms. Congress can increase the number of justices, giving the President power to influence future decisions by appointments (as in Roosevelt's Court Packing Plan discussed above). Congress can pass legislation that restricts the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and other federal courts over certain topics and cases: this is suggested by language in Section 2 of Article Three, where the appellate jurisdiction is granted "with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make." The Court sanctioned such congressional action in the Reconstruction case ex parte McCardle
Ex parte McCardle
Ex parte McCardle, 74 U.S. 506 , is a United States Supreme Court decision that examines the extent of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to review decisions of lower courts under federal statutory law.-Case history:...

 (1869), though it rejected Congress' power to dictate how particular cases must be decided in United States v. Klein
United States v. Klein
United States v. Klein, , was a landmark United States Supreme Court cases stemming from the U.S. Civil War .- Background :On December 8, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation offering a pardon to any person who had supported or fought for the Confederate Army, with full restoration...

 (1871).

On the other hand, through its power of judicial review, the Supreme Court has defined the scope and nature of the powers and separation between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government; for example, in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp.
United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp.
United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., 299 U.S. 304 , was a United States Supreme Court case involving principles of both governmental regulation of business and the supremacy of the executive branch of the federal government to conduct foreign affairs.-The Facts:In Curtiss-Wright, the...

 (1936), Dames & Moore v. Regan
Dames & Moore v. Regan
Dames & Moore v. Regan, was a United States Supreme Court case dealing with President Jimmy Carter's Executive Order 12170, which froze Iranian assets in the United States on November 14, 1979 in response to the Iran hostage crisis which began on November 4, 1979.-Holding:After the inauguration of...

 (1981), and notably in Goldwater v. Carter
Goldwater v. Carter
Goldwater v. Carter, 444 U.S. 996 , was a United States Supreme Court case which was the result of a lawsuit filed by Senator Barry Goldwater and other members of the United States Congress challenging the right of President Jimmy Carter to unilaterally nullify the Sino-American Mutual Defense...

 (1979), (where it effectively gave the Presidency the power to terminate ratified treaties without the consent of Congress or the Senate). The Court's decisions can also impose limitations on the scope of Executive authority, as in Humphrey's Executor v. United States
Humphrey's Executor v. United States
Humphrey's Executor v. United States, , was a United States Supreme Court case decided during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt presidency, regarding the powers that a President of the United States has to remove certain executive officials of a "quasi-legislative," "quasi-judicial" administrative body...

 (1935), the Steel Seizure Case
Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer
Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, , also commonly referred to as The Steel Seizure Case, was a United States Supreme Court decision that limited the power of the President of the United States to seize private property in the absence of either specifically enumerated authority under Article...

 (1952), and United States v. Nixon (1974).

Criticism


Some criticisms leveled at the Supreme Court are:
  • Judicial activism. The Supreme Court has been criticized for not keeping within Constitutional bounds by engaging in judicial activism
    Judicial activism
    Judicial activism describes judicial ruling suspected of being based on personal or political considerations rather than on existing law. It is sometimes used as an antonym of judicial restraint. The definition of judicial activism, and which specific decisions are activist, is a controversial...

    , rather than merely interpreting law and exercising judicial restraint
    Judicial restraint
    Judicial restraint is a theory of judicial interpretation that encourages judges to limit the exercise of their own power. It asserts that judges should hesitate to strike down laws unless they are obviously unconstitutional...

    . Claims of judicial activism are not confined to any particular ideology. An often cited example of conservative
    Conservatism
    Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others oppose modernism...

     judicial activism is the 1905 decision in Lochner v. New York
    Lochner v. New York
    Lochner vs. New York, , was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that held a "liberty of contract" was implicit in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The case involved a New York law that limited the number of hours that a baker could work each day to ten, and limited the...

    , which has been criticized by many prominent thinkers, including Robert Bork, Justice Antonin Scalia
    Antonin Scalia
    Antonin Gregory Scalia is an American jurist who serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As the longest-serving justice on the Court, Scalia is the Senior Associate Justice...

    , and Chief Justice John Roberts
    John Roberts
    John Glover Roberts, Jr. is the 17th and current Chief Justice of the United States. He has served since 2005, having been nominated by President George W. Bush after the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist...

    . An often cited example of liberal judicial activism is Roe v. Wade (1973), which legalized abortion in part on the basis of the "right to privacy" expressed in the Fourteenth Amendment
    Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
    The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the Dred Scott v...

    , a reasoning that some critics argued was circuitous. Legal scholars, justices, and presidential candidates have criticized the Roe decision. The progressive Brown v. Board of Education
    Brown v. Board of Education
    Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 , was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which...

     decision has been criticized by conservatives such as Patrick Buchanan and former presidential contender Barry Goldwater
    Barry Goldwater
    Barry Morris Goldwater was a five-term United States Senator from Arizona and the Republican Party's nominee for President in the 1964 election. An articulate and charismatic figure during the first half of the 1960s, he was known as "Mr...

    . Lincoln
    Abraham Lincoln
    Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

     warned, referring to the Dred Scott
    Dred Scott v. Sandford
    Dred Scott v. Sandford, , also known as the Dred Scott Decision, was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S...

     decision, that if government policy became "irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court...the people will have ceased to be their own rulers." Former justice Thurgood Marshall justified judicial activism with these words: "You do what you think is right and let the law catch up." During different historical periods, the Court has leaned in different directions. Critics from both sides complain that activist-judges abandon the Constitution and substitute their own views instead. Critics include writers such as Andrew Napolitano
    Andrew Napolitano
    Andrew Paolo Napolitano is a former New Jersey Superior Court Judge and now a political and legal analyst for Fox News Channel. Napolitano started on the channel in 1998, and currently serves as the network's senior judicial analyst, commenting on legal news and trials...

    , Phyllis Schlafly
    Phyllis Schlafly
    Phyllis McAlpin Stewart Schlafly is a Constitutional lawyer and an American politically conservative activist and author who founded the Eagle Forum. She is known for her opposition to modern feminism ideas and for her campaign against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment...

    , Mark R. Levin
    Mark Levin
    Mark Reed Levin is a lawyer, author and the host of American syndicated radio show The Mark Levin Show. Levin served in the cabinet of President Ronald Reagan and was a chief of staff for Attorney General Edwin Meese...

    , and Mark I. Sutherland, as well as Pulitzer Prize
    Pulitzer Prize
    The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

    -winning historian James MacGregor Burns
    James MacGregor Burns
    James MacGregor Burns is an historian and political scientist, presidential biographer, and authority on leadership studies. He is the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government Emeritus at Williams College and Distinguished Leadership Scholar at the of the School of Public Policy at the University...

    . Past presidents from both parties have attacked judicial activism, including Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan. Failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork wrote: "What judges have wrought is a coup d'état, – slow-moving and genteel, but a coup d'état nonetheless." Senator Al Franken
    Al Franken
    Alan Stuart "Al" Franken is the junior United States Senator from Minnesota. He is a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, which affiliates with the national Democratic Party....

     quipped that when politicians talk about judicial activism, "their definition of an activist judge is one who votes differently than [the politician] would like." It has been argued that the Supreme Court is in some respects "certainly a legislative body."

  • Federal versus state power. There has been debate throughout American history about the boundary between federal and state power. While Framers such as James Madison
    James Madison
    James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman and political theorist. He was the fourth President of the United States and is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and at first an opponent of, and then a key author of the United...

     and Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

     argued in the Federalist Papers
    Federalist Papers
    The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 articles or essays promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution. Seventy-seven of the essays were published serially in The Independent Journal and The New York Packet between October 1787 and August 1788...

     that their then-proposed Constitution would not infringe on the power of state governments, others argue that expansive federal power is good and consistent with the Framers' wishes. The Supreme Court has been criticized for giving the federal government
    Federal government of the United States
    The federal government of the United States is the national government of the constitutional republic of fifty states that is the United States of America. The federal government comprises three distinct branches of government: a legislative, an executive and a judiciary. These branches and...

     too much power to interfere with state authority. One criticism is that it has allowed the federal government to misuse the Commerce Clause
    Commerce Clause
    The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power listed in the United States Constitution . The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Courts and commentators have tended to...

     by upholding regulations and legislation which have little to do with interstate commerce, but that were enacted under the guise of regulating interstate commerce; and by voiding state legislation for allegedly interfering with interstate commerce. For example, the Commerce Clause was used to protect non-commercial cave bugs within a state. Chief Justice John Marshall
    John Marshall
    John Marshall was the Chief Justice of the United States whose court opinions helped lay the basis for American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches...

     asserted Congress's power over interstate commerce was "complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations, other than are prescribed in the Constitution." Justice Alito
    Samuel Alito
    Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and has served on the court since January 31, 2006....

     said congressional authority under the Commerce Clause
    Commerce Clause
    The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power listed in the United States Constitution . The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Courts and commentators have tended to...

     is "quite broad." Modern day theorist Robert B. Reich suggests debate over the Commerce Clause
    Commerce Clause
    The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power listed in the United States Constitution . The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Courts and commentators have tended to...

     continues today. Advocates of states' rights
    States' rights
    States' rights in U.S. politics refers to political powers reserved for the U.S. state governments rather than the federal government. It is often considered a loaded term because of its use in opposition to federally mandated racial desegregation...

     such as constitutional scholar Kevin Gutzman
    Kevin Gutzman
    Kevin R. Constantine Gutzman is an American historian, Constitutional scholar notable for having written The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution. He is a professor of the Department of History and Non-Western Cultures at Western Connecticut State University. He is an outspoken critic of...

     have also criticized the Court, saying it has misused the Fourteenth Amendment to undermine state authority. Justice Brandeis
    Louis Brandeis
    Louis Dembitz Brandeis ; November 13, 1856 – October 5, 1941) was an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939.He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Jewish immigrant parents who raised him in a secular mode...

    , in arguing for allowing the states to operate without federal interference, suggested that states should be "laboratories" of democracy. One critic wrote "the great majority of Supreme Court rulings of unconstitutionality involve state, not federal, law." However, others see the Fourteenth Amendment
    Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
    The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments.Its Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the Dred Scott v...

     as a positive force that extends "protection of those rights and guarantees to the state level."

  • Judicial interference in political disputes. Some Court decisions have been criticized for injecting the Court into the political arena, and deciding questions that are the purview of the other two branches of government. The Bush v. Gore
    Bush v. Gore
    Bush v. Gore, , is the landmark United States Supreme Court decision on December 12, 2000, that effectively resolved the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush. Only eight days earlier, the United States Supreme Court had unanimously decided the closely related case of Bush v...

     decision, in which the Supreme Court intervened in the 2000 presidential election and effectively chose George W. Bush
    George W. Bush
    George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

     over Al Gore
    Al Gore
    Albert Arnold "Al" Gore, Jr. served as the 45th Vice President of the United States , under President Bill Clinton. He was the Democratic Party's nominee for President in the 2000 U.S. presidential election....

    , has been criticized extensively, particularly by liberals. Another example are Court decisions on apportionment and re-districting
    Gerrymandering
    In the process of setting electoral districts, gerrymandering is a practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan, incumbent-protected districts...

    : in Baker v. Carr
    Baker v. Carr
    Baker v. Carr, , was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that retreated from the Court's political question doctrine, deciding that redistricting issues present justiciable questions, thus enabling federal courts to intervene in and to decide reapportionment cases...

    , the court decided it could rule on apportionment questions; Justice Frankfurter
    Felix Frankfurter
    Felix Frankfurter was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.-Early life:Frankfurter was born into a Jewish family on November 15, 1882, in Vienna, Austria, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Europe. He was the third of six children of Leopold and Emma Frankfurter...

     in a "scathing dissent" argued against the court wading into so-called "political questions."

  • Failing to protect individual rights. Court decisions have been criticized for failing to protect individual rights: the Dred Scott
    Dred Scott v. Sandford
    Dred Scott v. Sandford, , also known as the Dred Scott Decision, was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent brought into the United States and held as slaves were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S...

     (1857) decision upheld slavery; Plessy v Ferguson (1896) upheld segregation
    Racial segregation in the United States
    Racial segregation in the United States, as a general term, included the racial segregation or hypersegregation of facilities, services, and opportunities such as housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation along racial lines...

     under the doctrine of separate but equal
    Separate but equal
    Separate but equal was a legal doctrine in United States constitutional law that justified systems of segregation. Under this doctrine, services, facilities and public accommodations were allowed to be separated by race, on the condition that the quality of each group's public facilities was to...

    ; Kelo v. City of New London
    Kelo v. City of New London
    Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States involving the use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another to further economic development...

     (2005) was criticized by prominent politicians, including New Jersey
    New Jersey
    New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

     governor Jon Corzine
    Jon Corzine
    Jon Stevens Corzine is the former CEO of Goldman Sachs and of MF Global, and a one time American politician, who served as the 54th Governor of New Jersey from 2006 to 2010. A Democrat, Corzine served five years of a six-year U.S. Senate term representing New Jersey before being elected Governor...

    , as undermining property rights. A student criticized a 1988 ruling that allowed school officials "to block publication of a student article in the high school newspaper." Some critics suggest the 2009 bench with a conservative majority has "become increasingly hostile to voters" by siding with Indiana's voter identification laws which tend to "disenfranchise large numbers of people without driver's licenses, especially poor and minority voters", according to one report. Senator Al Franken
    Al Franken
    Alan Stuart "Al" Franken is the junior United States Senator from Minnesota. He is a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, which affiliates with the national Democratic Party....

     criticized the Court for "eroding individual rights." However, others argue that the Court is too protective of some individual rights, particularly those of people accused of crimes or in detention. For example, Chief Justice Warren Burger was an outspoken critic of the exclusionary rule, and Justice Scalia
    Antonin Scalia
    Antonin Gregory Scalia is an American jurist who serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As the longest-serving justice on the Court, Scalia is the Senior Associate Justice...

     criticized the Court's decision in Boumediene v. Bush
    Boumediene v. Bush
    Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 , was a writ of habeas corpus submission made in a civilian court of the United States on behalf of Lakhdar Boumediene, a naturalized citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina, held in military detention by the United States at the Guantanamo Bay detention camps in Cuba...

     for being too protective of the rights of Guantanamo detainees, on the grounds that habeas corpus
    Habeas corpus
    is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

     was "limited" to sovereign territory.

  • Supreme Court has too much power. This criticism is related to complaints about judicial activism. George Will
    George Will
    George Frederick Will is an American newspaper columnist, journalist, and author. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winner best known for his conservative commentary on politics...

     wrote that the Court has an "increasingly central role in American governance." It was criticized for intervening in bankruptcy proceedings regarding ailing carmaker Chrysler Corporation in 2009. A reporter wrote that "Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
    Ruth Bader Ginsburg
    Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Ginsburg was appointed by President Bill Clinton and took the oath of office on August 10, 1993. She is the second female justice and the first Jewish female justice.She is generally viewed as belonging to...

    's intervention in the Chrysler bankruptcy" left open the "possibility of further judicial review" but argued overall that the intervention was a proper use of Supreme Court power to check the executive branch. Warren E. Burger, before becoming Chief Justice
    Chief Justice of the United States
    The Chief Justice of the United States is the head of the United States federal court system and the chief judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice is one of nine Supreme Court justices; the other eight are the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States...

    , argued that since the Supreme Court has such "unreviewable power" it is likely to "self-indulge itself" and unlikely to "engage in dispassionate analysis". Larry Sabato
    Larry Sabato
    Larry Joseph Sabato is an American political scientist and analyst. He is the Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, and director of its Center for Politics. He founded Sabato's Crystal Ball, an online newsletter and website that provides free political analysis and...

     wrote "excessive authority has accrued to the federal courts, especially the Supreme Court."

  • Courts are poor check on executive power. British constitutional scholar Adam Tomkins
    Adam Tomkins
    Professor Adam Tomkins is a British legal scholar and John Millar Professor of Public Law at the School of Law of the University of Glasgow.Tomkins was educated at the University of East Anglia and the London School of Economics...

     sees flaws in the American system of having courts (and specifically the Supreme Court) act as checks on the Executive and Legislative branches; he argues that because the courts must wait, sometimes for years, for cases to wend their way through the system, their ability to restrain the other two branches is severely weakened.

  • Not choosing enough cases to review. Senator Arlen Specter
    Arlen Specter
    Arlen Specter is a former United States Senator from Pennsylvania. Specter is a Democrat, but was a Republican from 1965 until switching to the Democratic Party in 2009...

     said the Court should "decide more cases." On the other hand, although Justice Scalia
    Antonin Scalia
    Antonin Gregory Scalia is an American jurist who serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As the longest-serving justice on the Court, Scalia is the Senior Associate Justice...

     acknowledged in a 2009 interview that the number of cases that the Court hears now is smaller today than when he first joined the Supreme Court, he also stated that he has not changed his standards for deciding whether to review a case, nor does he believe his colleagues have changed their standards. He attributed the high volume of cases in the late 1980s, at least in part, to an earlier flurry of new federal legislation that was making its way through the courts.

  • Secret proceedings. The Court has been criticized for keeping its deliberations hidden from public view. Its inner workings are difficult for reporters to cover, like a closed "cartel", only revealing itself through "public events and printed releases, with nothing about its inner workings", according to a review of Jeffrey Toobin
    Jeffrey Toobin
    Jeffrey Ross Toobin is an American lawyer, author, and legal analyst for CNN and The New Yorker.-Early life and education:...

    's expose The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court
    The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court
    The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court is a 2007 non-fiction book by legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Based in part on exclusive interviews with the justices and former law clerks, Toobin profiles the justices of the United States Supreme Court, the functioning of that institution, and...

    . The reviewer writes: "few (reporters) dig deeply into court affairs. It all works very neatly; the only ones hurt are the American people, who know little about nine individuals with enormous power over their lives." Larry Sabato
    Larry Sabato
    Larry Joseph Sabato is an American political scientist and analyst. He is the Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, and director of its Center for Politics. He founded Sabato's Crystal Ball, an online newsletter and website that provides free political analysis and...

     complains about the Court's "insularity." A Fairleigh Dickinson University
    Fairleigh Dickinson University
    Fairleigh Dickinson University is a private university founded as a junior college in 1942. It now has several campuses located in New Jersey, Canada, and the United Kingdom.-Description:...

     poll conducted in 2010 found that 61% of American voters agreed that televising Court hearings
    Supreme Court of the United States, televised
    Supreme Court of the United States, televised, refers to the debate over televising proceedings of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court has never allowed cameras in its courtroom, but it does make audiotapes of oral arguments and opinions available to the public...

     would "be good for democracy", and 50% of voters stated they would watch Court proceedings if they were televised. In recent years, many justices have appeared on television, written books, and made public statements to journalists. In a 2009 interview on C-SPAN, journalists Joan Biskupic
    Joan Biskupic
    Joan Biskupic is an American journalist, author, and lawyer who has covered the United States Supreme Court since 1989. She has been the Legal Affairs Correspondent for USA Today since June 2000. From 1992 to 2000, she was the Supreme Court reporter for The Washington Post, and from 1989 to 1992...

     (of USA Today
    USA Today
    USA Today is a national American daily newspaper published by the Gannett Company. It was founded by Al Neuharth. The newspaper vies with The Wall Street Journal for the position of having the widest circulation of any newspaper in the United States, something it previously held since 2003...

    ) and Lyle Denniston
    Lyle Denniston
    Lyle Denniston is an American legal journalist, professor, and author, who has reported on the Supreme Court of the United States for 51 years. He currently writes for SCOTUSblog, an online blog featuring news and analysis of the Supreme Court, though in the past he has written for the Wall Street...

     (of SCOTUSblog
    SCOTUSblog
    SCOTUSblog is a law blog written by lawyers and law students about the Supreme Court of the United States . The blog is sponsored by Bloomberg Law. The blog's first post occurred October 1, 2002. The blog moved to its current address on February 7, 2005. In the same year, it was featured by...

    ) argued that the Court is a "very open" institution, with only the justices' private conferences being inaccessible to others. In October 2010, the Court began the practice of posting on its website recordings and transcripts of oral arguments on the Friday after they take place.

  • Creating a culture of legal intimidation. Critic Philip K. Howard in The Death of Common Sense and Life Without Lawyers criticized the Court for promoting a culture in which "law is wielded as a weapon of intimidation rather than as an instrument of protection." It leads to "a nation paralyzed by fear, unwilling to assume responsibility, both overly reliant on authority and distrustful of it." Howard deplores a legal culture in which the "rights" of "whoever might disagree" have trumped common sense. Specifically, Howard criticized the Earl Warren court for too much "sympathy for the little man." He criticized the Conley v. Gibson
    Conley v. Gibson
    Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 , was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States that provided a basis for a broad reading of the "short plain statement" requirement for pleading under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure....

     decision for opening "the floodgates to abusive litigation."

  • Lifetime tenure. Critic Larry Sabato
    Larry Sabato
    Larry Joseph Sabato is an American political scientist and analyst. He is the Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, and director of its Center for Politics. He founded Sabato's Crystal Ball, an online newsletter and website that provides free political analysis and...

     wrote: "The insularity of lifetime tenure, combined with the appointments of relatively young attorneys who give long service on the bench, produces senior judges representing the views of past generations better than views of the current day." Sanford Levinson
    Sanford Levinson
    Sanford Victor Levinson is a prominent American liberal law professor and acknowledged expert on Constitutional law and legal scholar and professor of government at the University of Texas Law School...

     has been critical of justices who stayed in office despite medical deterioration based on longevity. James MacGregor Burns
    James MacGregor Burns
    James MacGregor Burns is an historian and political scientist, presidential biographer, and authority on leadership studies. He is the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government Emeritus at Williams College and Distinguished Leadership Scholar at the of the School of Public Policy at the University...

     stated lifelong tenure has "produced a critical time lag, with the Supreme Court institutionally almost always behind the times." Proposals to solve these problems include term limits for justices, as proposed by Levinson and Sabato as well as a mandatory retirement age proposed by Richard Epstein. However, others suggest lifetime tenure brings substantial benefits, such as impartiality and freedom from political pressure. Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton was a Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury...

     in Federalist 78 wrote "nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as permanency in office."

See also




  • List of law clerks of the Supreme Court of the United States
  • List of law schools by United States Supreme Court Justices trained
  • Oyez Project
  • Segal-Cover score
    Segal-Cover score
    A Segal–Cover score is an "attempt to measure the perceived qualifications and ideology" of United States Supreme Court justices. The method of was introduced by Jeffrey Segal and Albert Cover in their article "Ideological Values and the Votes of U.S. Supreme Court Justices," published in the...

  • Supreme Court Historical Society
    Supreme Court Historical Society
    The Supreme Court Historical Society is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and communicating the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.-History:...

  • Supreme Court Litigation
  • Supreme Court Procedures
    Procedures of the Supreme Court of the United States
    The Supreme Court of the United States is the only court specifically established by the Constitution of the United States, implemented in 1789.This article is concerned with the process and procedures used by the modern court...

  • United States Reports
    United States Reports
    The United States Reports are the official record of the rulings, orders, case tables, and other proceedings of the Supreme Court of the United States. Opinions of the court in each case, prepended with a headnote prepared by the Reporter of Decisions, and any concurring or dissenting opinions are...

  • Unsuccessful nominations to the Supreme Court of the United States
    Unsuccessful nominations to the Supreme Court of the United States
    Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are nominated by the President and are then confirmed by the Senate. Presidential administrations are listed with any unsuccessful Supreme Court nominees—that is, individuals who were nominated and who either declined their own nomination, failed...



Further reading

  • Beard
    Charles A. Beard
    Charles Austin Beard was, with Frederick Jackson Turner, one of the most influential American historians of the first half of the 20th century. He published hundreds of monographs, textbooks and interpretive studies in both history and political science...

    , Charles A. (1912). The Supreme Court and the Constitution. New York: Macmillan Company. Reprinted Dover Publications
    Dover Publications
    Dover Publications is an American book publisher founded in 1941 by Hayward Cirker and his wife, Blanche. It publishes primarily reissues, books no longer published by their original publishers. These are often, but not always, books in the public domain. The original published editions may be...

    , 2006. ISBN 0-486-44779-0.
  • Cushman, Barry. (1998). Rethinking the New Deal
    New Deal
    The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

     Court. Oxford University Press.
  • Garner, Bryan A.
    Bryan A. Garner
    Bryan A. Garner is a U.S. lawyer, lexicographer, and teacher who has written several books about English usage and style, including Garner's Modern American Usage. He is the editor in chief of all current editions of Black's Law Dictionary...

     (2004). Black's Law Dictionary
    Black's Law Dictionary
    Black's Law Dictionary is the most widely used law dictionary in the United States. It was founded by Henry Campbell Black. It is the reference of choice for definitions in legal briefs and court opinions and has been cited as a secondary legal authority in many U.S...

    . Deluxe 8th ed. Thomson West
    Thomson West
    West publishes legal, business, and regulatory information in print, and on electronic services such as Westlaw. Since the late 19th century, West has been one of the most prominent publishers of legal materials in the United States...

    . ISBN 0-314-15199-0.
  • Greenburg, Jan Crawford
    Jan Crawford Greenburg
    Jan Crawford, formerly known as Jan Crawford Greenburg, is a television journalist, author, and lawyer. She currently serves as both the political correspondent and chief legal correspondent for CBS News and appears regularly on the CBS Evening News, Face the Nation, Early Show, and CBS News Sunday...

    , Jan. (2007). Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control for the United States Supreme Court. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 978-1-59420-101-1.
  • McCloskey, Robert G. (2005). The American Supreme Court. 4th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
    University of Chicago Press
    The University of Chicago Press is the largest university press in the United States. It is operated by the University of Chicago and publishes a wide variety of academic titles, including The Chicago Manual of Style, dozens of academic journals, including Critical Inquiry, and a wide array of...

    . ISBN 0-226-55682-4.
  • Toobin
    Jeffrey Toobin
    Jeffrey Ross Toobin is an American lawyer, author, and legal analyst for CNN and The New Yorker.-Early life and education:...

    , Jeffrey. The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Doubleday, 2007. ISBN 0-385-51640-1.
  • Urofsky, Melvin and Finkelman, Paul
    Paul finkelman
    Paul Finkelman is an American historian and legal scholar. He is the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy, and Senior Fellow in the Government Law Center at Albany Law School in Albany, NY...

    . (2001). A March of Liberty: A Constitutional History of the United States. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press is the largest university press in the world. It is a department of the University of Oxford and is governed by a group of 15 academics appointed by the Vice-Chancellor known as the Delegates of the Press. They are headed by the Secretary to the Delegates, who serves as...

    . ISBN 0-19-512637-8 & ISBN 0-19-512635-1. |title=The Court Building|format=PDF|accessdate=2008-02-13|author=Supreme Court Historical Society|authorlink=Supreme Court Historical Society}}

External links