The Supreme Court is the one and only federal court mentioned in the Constitution. Not only has it been around since the beginning, but it also holds a considerable amount of weight in public policy in the United States.
Every one of the Chief Justices has a lifetime tenure. This means they can hold influence on public policy long after the presidents and senators who placed them into office leave.
The Supreme Court is the most powerful court in the United States and the nomination of a new justice attracts large amounts of media attention. Unfortunately, many Americans do not fully understand the way it works.
32 percent of Americans could not even identify the Supreme Court as one of the three branches of federal government, according to a survey done by the Annenberg Public Policy Center in 2015. 28 percent thought the Supreme Court returned decisions to Congress for reconsideration.
So, for the people who find confusion on the topic and actual shame for their lack of knowledge, here is a run-down of the way the Supreme Court actually operates.
How a Justice Gets the Job
First of all, there are 9 Justices¾one of which is the Chief Justice and the other eight are Associate Justices. The position of the Chief Justice is currently held by John Roberts who has been in office since 2005.
A large amount of responsibility sits in the hands of these 9 men and woman. It is imperative that the right people are selected for the job.
After consulting with Senators, the President will nominate a candidate through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A hearing is then held by the Committee to debate the qualifications of the candidate typically about a month after nomination (this gives the Committee time to collect required documents and the nominee to prepare for the hearings).
Witnesses opposing and supporting the nominee present their view during the hearing. The Committee then votes on the nomination and sends their recommendation to the Senate.
The Senate holds the final vote and if 51 support the nomination, then the candidate wins the job title.
A Supreme Court Justice’s Job Description
A Supreme Court Justice does what any normal judge would do and presides over civil and criminal court cases.
The only main difference is these cases normally involve constitutional law which is the most important type of law in the US. The justices also must work alongside eight other people instead of having the authority to decide on their own.
Besides overseeing cases, each Justice is responsible for one or more of the 13 federal circuits in the US. Justices are sometimes required to interfere in some of the court orders for these cases.
Types of Cases the Supreme Court Hears
Although the Supreme Court holds a considerable amount of power, it only hears about 80 cases each year.
The Supreme Court receives about 7,000-8,000 requests a year and therefore must be picky in which ones they allow in.
Most of the cases the Supreme Court deals with require the questioning or interpretation of an existing law and its constitutionality. In order for a case to get officially accepted, four of the nine Justices must agree to take it.
How the Nine Justices Make Their Decision
If the case gets approved, then the petitioner is required to write a brief (not exceeding 50 pages) to present the case.
After the brief portion of the case is completed, the next step is the oral argument step. In this stage, the lawyers of each side discuss and defend the merits of their own arguments and Justices can ask questions.
Typically, two cases are heard each day and they are open to the public.
The next part is the conference. This is the stage when the Justices discuss everything they have heard or read about the case and make a decision.
In order for a case to be decided on, at least six of the Justices must be present or involved and reasonably the cases are voted on with majority rules.
Once the Supreme Court makes a decision, the case cannot be appealed to any other court. This is a “one and done” decision.
Although Justices have lifetime tenure, the average time served is 17 years. Not only do these Justices obtain power for such an extended period of time, but they also oversee the most important cases that impact as many people as possible.
These nine people arguably hold the weightiest amount of power in the country. It is important for citizens of the United States to understand who they are and what they do.