About the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the highest tribunal in the nation for all cases and controversies arising under the Constitution or the laws of the United States.

“Equal Justice Under the Law”

These words, written above the main entrance to the Supreme Court Building, express the ultimate responsibility of the Supreme Court of the United States. As the final arbiter of the law, the Court is in charge of ensuring the American people the promise of equal justice under law and, thereby, also functions as guardian and interpreter of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and a number of Associate Justices. The US Congress decides this number.

The quantity of Associate Justices is currently fixed at eight (28 U. S. C. 1).

The President of the United States has the power to nominate the Justices, and the Senate has to give advice and consent for appointments to be made.

Why Is The Supreme Court Important?

The Supreme Court plays a very important role in the US constitutional system of government.

  • First, as the highest court in the land, it is the court of last resort for those looking for justice.
  • Second, due to its power of judicial review, it plays an essential role in ensuring that each branch of government recognizes the limits of its own power.
  • Third, it protects civil rights and liberties by striking down laws that violate the Constitution.
  • Finally, it sets appropriate limits on democratic government by ensuring that popular majorities cannot pass laws that harm and/or take undue advantage of unpopular minorities.

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

The Justices

Chief Justice of the United States:

  • John G. Roberts, Jr.

Associate Justices:

  • Clarence Thomas
  • Stephen G. Breyer
  • Samuel A. Alito, Jr.
  • Sonia Sotomayor
  • Elena Kagan
  • Neil M. Gorsuch
  • Brett M. Kavanaugh
  • Amy Coney Barrett

Constitutional Origin of the Supreme Court

Article III, 1, of the Constitution provides that “the judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may, from time to time, ordain and establish.” The Supreme Court of the United States was created in accordance with this provision and by authority of the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789 (1 Stat. 73). It was organized on February 2, 1790.

The Supreme Court’s Jurisdiction

According to the American Constitution (Art. III, 2): “The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;-to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;-to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;-to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;-to Controversies between two or more States;-between a State and Citizens of another State;-between Citizens of different States;-between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations, as the Congress shall make.”

Appellate jurisdiction has been conferred upon the Supreme Court by various statutes, under the authority given to Congress by the Constitution. The basic statute effective at this time in conferring and controlling jurisdiction of the Supreme Court may be found in 28 U. S. C. 1251 et seq., and various special statutes.

The Term of the Supreme Court and Caseload

The Term of the Court begins, by law, on the first Monday in October and lasts until the first Monday in October of the next year.

In each Term, the Supreme Court approximately files 7,000-8,000 new cases.

This is a substantially larger volume of cases than was presented to the Court in the last century.

In the 1950 Term, for example, the Court received only 1,195 new cases, and even as recently as the 1975 Term it received only 3,940.

Plenary review, with oral arguments by attorneys, is currently granted in about 80 of those cases each Term, and the Court typically disposes of about 100 or more cases without plenary review.

The publication of each Term’s written opinions, including concurring opinions, dissenting opinions, and orders, can take up thousands of pages. During the drafting process, some opinions may be revised a dozen or more times before they are announced.

Supreme Court: Useful Sources Of Information

  • The Supreme Court official Website.
  • SCOTUS Blog: Law blog written by lawyers, law professors, and law students about the Supreme Court of the United States.
  • The Oyez Project: maintained by IIT Chicago Kent College of Law, is a Supreme Court multimedia archive. The site aims to be a complete and authoritative source for all audio recorded in the Court since the installation of a recording system in October 1955. They provide good short summaries of cases and the question(s) presented in each, as well as information about the justices, and a virtual tour.
  • The New York Times Supreme Court Page: This page contains news articles about recent Supreme Court decisions, as well as links to several blogs. The site also contains links to articles relating to each of the Justices, interactive multimedia features, and a summary of the notable cases from the present term.

Supreme Court Cases

Supreme Court Case Summaries

Vartelas v. Holder

Introduction In Vartelas v. Holder, the Supreme Court held that an immigration law enacted by Congress to exclude entry by aliens convicted of a crime

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Turner v. Safely

482 U.S. 78, 107 S. Ct. 2254, 96 L. Ed. 2d 64 (1987) Introduction In Turner v. Safely, the Supreme Court decided a challenge to

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Supreme Court Stories

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in AnyLaw Case Summaries and Law Thoughts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this website.

Articles do not constitute legal advice.

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