Supreme Court if the United States (SCOTUS)
The Supreme Court has a special role to play in the United States system of government. The Constitution gives it the power to check, if necessary, the actions of the President and Congress.
It can tell a President that his actions are not allowed by the Constitution. It can tell Congress that a law it passed violated the U.S. Constitution and is, therefore, no longer a law. It can also tell the government of a state that one of its laws breaks a rule in the Constitution.
The Supreme Court is the final judge in all cases involving laws of Congress, and the highest law of all — the Constitution. Want to find out more. Click here!
Members of The Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court Description (Technical)
The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and such number of Associate Justices as may be fixed by Congress. The number of Associate Justices is currently fixed at eight (28 U. S. C. §1). There is on vacant chair. Power to nominate the Justices is vested in the President of the United States, and appointments are made with the advice and consent of the Senate. Article III, §1, of the Constitution further provides that "[t]he Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office."
Article III, §1, of the Constitution provides that "[t]he 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.
According to the 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 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.
Congress has from time to time conferred upon the Supreme Court power to prescribe rules of procedure to be followed by the lower courts of the United States. See 28 U. S. C. §2071 et seq.
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. Approximately 7,000-8000 petitions are filed with the Court in the course of a Term. In addition, some 1,200 applications of various kinds are filed each year that can be acted upon by a single Justice.
John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice of the United States,
was born in Buffalo, New York, January 27, 1955. He married Jane Marie Sullivan in 1996 and they have two children - Josephine and Jack. He received an A.B. from Harvard College in 1976 and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1979. He served as a law clerk for Judge Henry J. Friendly of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1979–1980 and as a law clerk for then-Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist of the Supreme Court of the United States during the 1980 Term. He was Special Assistant to the Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice from 1981–1982, Associate Counsel to President Ronald Reagan, White House Counsel’s Office from 1982–1986, and Principal Deputy Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Justice from 1989–1993. From 1986–1989 and 1993–2003, he practiced law in Washington, D.C. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2003. President George W. Bush nominated him as Chief Justice of the United States, and he took his seat September 29, 2005.
Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice,
was born in Sacramento, California, July 23, 1936. He married Mary Davis and has three children. He received his B.A. from Stanford University and the London School of Economics, and his LL.B. from Harvard Law School. He was in private practice in San Francisco, California from 1961–1963, as well as in Sacramento, California from 1963–1975. From 1965 to 1988, he was a Professor of Constitutional Law at the McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific. He has served in numerous positions during his career, including a member of the California Army National Guard in 1961, the board of the Federal Judicial Center from 1987–1988, and two committees of the Judicial Conference of the United States: the Advisory Panel on Financial Disclosure Reports and Judicial Activities, subsequently renamed the Advisory Committee on Codes of Conduct, from 1979–1987, and the Committee on Pacific Territories from 1979–1990, which he chaired from 1982–1990. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1975. President Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat February 18, 1988.
Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice,
was born in the Pinpoint community near Savannah, Georgia on June 23, 1948. He attended Conception Seminary from 1967-1968 and received an A.B., cum laude, from Holy Cross College in 1971 and a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1974. He was admitted to law practice in Missouri in 1974, and served as an Assistant Attorney General of Missouri, 1974-1977; an attorney with the Monsanto Company, 1977-1979; and Legislative Assistant to Senator John Danforth, 1979-1981. From 1981-1982 he served as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, and as Chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1982-1990. From 1990-1991, he served as a Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. President Bush nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and he took his seat October 23, 1991. He married Virginia Lamp on May 30, 1987 and has one child, Jamal Adeen by a previous marriage.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice,
was born in Brooklyn, New York, March 15, 1933. She married Martin D. Ginsburg in 1954, and has a daughter, Jane, and a son, James. She received her B.A. from Cornell University, attended Harvard Law School, and received her LL.B. from Columbia Law School. She served as a law clerk to the Honorable Edmund L. Palmieri, Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, from 1959–1961. From 1961–1963, she was a research associate and then associate director of the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure. She was a Professor of Law at Rutgers University School of Law from 1963–1972, and Columbia Law School from 1972–1980, and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California from 1977–1978. In 1971, she was instrumental in launching the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, and served as the ACLU’s General Counsel from 1973–1980, and on the National Board of Directors from 1974–1980. She was appointed a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980. President Clinton nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and she took her seat August 10, 1993.
Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice,
was born in San Francisco, California, August 15, 1938. He married Joanna Hare in 1967, and has three children - Chloe, Nell, and Michael. He received an A.B. from Stanford University, a B.A. from Magdalen College, Oxford, and an LL.B. from Harvard Law School. He served as a law clerk to Justice Arthur Goldberg of the Supreme Court of the United States during the 1964 Term, as a Special Assistant to the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Antitrust, 1965–1967, as an Assistant Special Prosecutor of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, 1973, as Special Counsel of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, 1974–1975, and as Chief Counsel of the committee, 1979–1980. He was an Assistant Professor, Professor of Law, and Lecturer at Harvard Law School, 1967–1994, a Professor at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, 1977–1980, and a Visiting Professor at the College of Law, Sydney, Australia and at the University of Rome. From 1980–1990, he served as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and as its Chief Judge, 1990–1994. He also served as a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States, 1990–1994, and of the United States Sentencing Commission, 1985–1989. President Clinton nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat August 3, 1994.
Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr., Associate Justice,
was born in Trenton, New Jersey, April 1, 1950. He married Martha-Ann Bomgardner in 1985, and has two children - Philip and Laura. He served as a law clerk for Leonard I. Garth of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit from 1976–1977. He was Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey, 1977–1981, Assistant to the Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Justice, 1981–1985, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 1985–1987, and U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey, 1987–1990. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1990. President George W. Bush nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat January 31, 2006.
Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice,
was born in Bronx, New York, on June 25, 1954. She earned a B.A. in 1976 from Princeton University, graduating summa cum laude and receiving the university's highest academic honor. In 1979, she earned a J.D. from Yale Law School where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. She served as Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney's Office from 1979–1984. She then litigated international commercial matters in New York City at Pavia & Harcourt, where she served as an associate and then partner from 1984–1992. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, and she served in that role from 1992–1998. She served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1998–2009. President Barack Obama nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on May 26, 2009, and she assumed this role August 8, 2009.
Elena Kagan, Associate Justice,
was born in New York, New York, on April 28, 1960. She received an A.B. from Princeton in 1981, an M. Phil. from Oxford in 1983, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1986. She clerked for Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1986-1987 and for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court during the 1987 Term. After briefly practicing law at a Washington, D.C. law firm, she became a law professor, first at the University of Chicago Law School and later at Harvard Law School. She also served for four years in the Clinton Administration, as Associate Counsel to the President and then as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. Between 2003 and 2009, she served as the Dean of Harvard Law School. In 2009, President Obama nominated her as the Solicitor General of the United States. A year later, the President nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on May 10, 2010. She took her seat on August 7, 2010.
Neil M. Gorsuch, Associate Justice,
was born in Denver, Colorado, August 29, 1967. He and his wife Louise have two daughters. He received a B.A. from Columbia University, a J.D. from Harvard Law School, and a D.Phil. from Oxford University. He served as a law clerk to Judge David B. Sentelle of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and as a law clerk to Justice Byron White and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of the Supreme Court of the United States. From 1995-2005, he was in private practice, and from 2005-2006 he was Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 2006. He served on the Standing Committee on Rules for Practice and Procedure of the U.S. Judicial Conference, and as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Rules of Appellate Procedure. He taught at the University of Colorado Law School. President Donald J. Trump nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat on April 10, 2017
Sandra Day O’Connor (Retired), Associate Justice,
was born in El Paso, Texas, March 26, 1930. She married John Jay O’Connor III in 1952 and has three sons - Scott, Brian, and Jay. She received her B.A. and LL.B. from Stanford University. She served as Deputy County Attorney of San Mateo County, California from 1952–1953 and as a civilian attorney for Quartermaster Market Center, Frankfurt, Germany from 1954–1957. From 1958–1960, she practiced law in Maryvale, Arizona, and served as Assistant Attorney General of Arizona from 1965–1969. She was appointed to the Arizona State Senate in1969 and was subsequently reelected to two two-year terms. In 1975 she was elected Judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court and served until 1979, when she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals. President Reagan nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and she took her seat September 25, 1981. Justice O’Connor retired from the Supreme Court on January 31, 2006.
David H. Souter (Retired), Associate Justice,
was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, September 17, 1939. He graduated from Harvard College, from which he received his A.B. After two years as a Rhodes Scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford, he received an A.B. in Jurisprudence from Oxford University and an M.A. in 1989. After receiving an LL.B. from Harvard Law School, he was an associate at Orr and Reno in Concord, New Hampshire from 1966 to 1968, when he became an Assistant Attorney General of New Hampshire. In 1971, he became Deputy Attorney General and in 1976, Attorney General of New Hampshire. In 1978, he was named an Associate Justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire, and was appointed to the Supreme Court of New Hampshire as an Associate Justice in 1983. He became a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on May 25, 1990. President Bush nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat October 9, 1990. Justice Souter retired from the Supreme Court on June 29, 2009.
John Paul Stevens (Retired), Associate Justice,
was born in Chicago, Illinois, April 20, 1920. He married Maryan Mulholland (deceased), and has four children - John Joseph, Kathryn, Elizabeth Jane, and Susan Roberta. He received an A.B. from the University of Chicago, and a J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law. He served in the United States Navy from 1942–1945, and was a law clerk to Justice Wiley Rutledge of the Supreme Court of the United States during the 1947 Term. He was admitted to law practice in Illinois in 1949. He was Associate Counsel to the Subcommittee on the Study of Monopoly Power of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1951–1952, and a member of the Attorney General’s National Committee to Study Antitrust Law, 1953–1955. He was Second Vice President of the Chicago Bar Association in 1970. From 1970–1975, he served as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. President Ford nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat December 19, 1975. Justice Stevens retired from the Supreme Court on June 29, 2010.
More Great Information!
The Supreme Court, however, is far from all-powerful. Its power is limited by the other two branches of government. The President nominates justices to the court. The Senate must vote its approval of the nominations. The whole Congress also has great power over the lower courts in the federal system. District and appeals courts are created by acts of Congress. These courts may be abolished if Congress wishes it.
The Supreme Court is like a referee on a football field. The Congress, the President, the state police, and other government officials are the players. Some can pass laws, and others can enforce laws. But all exercise power within certain boundaries. These boundaries are set by the Constitution. As the "referee" in the US system of government, it is the Supreme Court's job to say when government officials step out-of-bounds.
How the Justices Make Decisions
The decisions of the Supreme Court are made inside a white marble courthouse in Washington, D.C. Here the nine Justices receive approximately 7,000 to 8,000 requests for hearings each year. Of these the Court will agree to hear fewer than 100. If the Court decides not to hear the case, the ruling of the lower court stands.
Those cases which they agree to hear are given a date for argument.
On the morning of that day, the lawyers and spectators enter a large courtroom. When an officer of the Court bangs his gavel, the people in the courtroom stand. The nine Justices walk through a red curtain and stand beside nine tall, black-leather chairs. The Chief Justice takes the middle and tallest chair. "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!" shouts the marshal of the Court. (It's an old Court expression meaning hear ye .) "God save the United States and this Honorable Court."
The Justices take their seats. The lawyers step forward and explain their case. The justices listen from their high seats and often interrupt to ask the lawyers questions. Several cases may be argued in one day. Finally, in the late afternoon, the Chief Justice bangs his gavel, rises from his seat, and leads the other justices through the red curtain out of the courtroom.
The Justices may take several days to study a case. Then they meet around a large table in a locked and guarded room. From their table, they may occasionally look up to see a painting on the wall.
It is a portrait of a man dressed in an old-fashioned, high-collared coat. This man is John Marshall, one of the greatest Chief Justices in American history. More than anyone else, he helped the Supreme Court develop its power and importance.
Before Marshall became Chief Justice, the Supreme Court had not yet challenged an act of Congress. The Constitution did not clearly give the Court power to judge laws passed by Congress. Therefore, the Court wasn't even sure it had this power.
But Marshall made a daring move. In a famous court case in 1803, Marbury v. Madison, he wrote the Court's opinion, which declared a law passed by Congress to be unconstitutional.
This decision gave the Supreme Court its power of judicial review. Ever since, the highest court has used the power to review the nation's laws and judge whether they were allowed under the Constitution. It has also reviewed the actions of the President.
The Constitution does not allow Congress or state legislatures to pass laws that "abridge the freedom of speech." Freedom of speech is protected in the United States, and no lawmaking body may interfere with that freedom. Right? Usually. But there may be limits, even to free speech.
No freedom, even one specifically mentioned in the Constitution, is absolute. People convicted of serious crimes lose their right to vote. Some religions encourage a man to have several wives. But that practice is forbidden in the United States, even though the Constitution says that there shall be no laws that prohibit the "free exercise" of religion. Even words themselves may pose a "clear and present danger" to the well-being of the country.
Supreme Court Case Example
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Lee V. United States, on March 28, 2017
The case involves a person that was advised by his attorney to plead guilty. The final outcome could result in mandatory deportation for the defendant. See Case 16-327