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Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States, located in Washington, D.C., is the highest court (see supreme court) in the United States; that is, it has ultimate judicial authority within the United States to interpret and decide questions of federal law. It is head of the Judicial branch of the United States Government. The other two branches of the United States Government are the Executive branch and the Legislative branch. The Supreme Court is sometimes known by the acronym SCOTUS.

The Supreme Court is the only court required by the United States Constitution. All other federal courts could legally be eliminated by Congress, although the likelihood of this happening is minuscule. The justices (currently nine) are appointed for life by the President of the United States and confirmed by majority vote by the Senate. One of these nine serves as Chief Justice; the remaining members are designated Associate Justices.

While the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in a few cases such as suits between states, most of its work consists of reviewing cases from state supreme courts or from lower federal courts, sometimes by direct appeal, but most often by petition for Writ of Certiorari. As with all federal courts, the jurisdiction of the court is limited in terms of who may be brought before the court (personal jurisdiction), and what claims may be made (subject-matter jurisdiction[?]). Thus, for example, cases that arise from the state supreme courts may only be heard by the United States Supreme Court if they present an issue of federal law. Where the state case was decided on an independent and adequate state ground[?], the Supreme Court will not hear it.

When deciding a case, each judge can write their own opinion; all these statements are made public. In practice, there is typically one majority opinion in which several judges join and one or more dissenting opinions. Usually, but not always, the judges sign the opinions. The opinions are usually preceeded by a syllabus which concisely summaries the case and the decision; the syllabus is not prepared by the judges and is not technically part of the decision.

Supreme Court decisions are cited as in the following example: Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 118 (1973). The opposing parties are listed, followed by the number of the reporter volume in which the decision was published, followed by "U.S." identifying the reporter for the U.S. Supreme Court, followed by the page number in the reporter volume where the decision begins, followed by the page number of the specific material we want to cite, followed by the year the case was decided.

The current United States Supreme Court Justices are:

Also see Past Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States


The United States Supreme Court has had a fascinating history that is richly intertwined with U.S. history. The Supreme Court convened for the first time on February 1, 1790 in New York City. The current United States Supreme Court building was designed by architect Cass Gilbert, and built between 1932 and 1935.

The Court achieved its current influence in the life of the United States during the tenure of the Chief Justice John Marshall. He was appointed to the office by John Adams in the final days of Adams' presidency. As a political opponent of the Jeffersonian Republicans, Marshall delivered a number of opinions that they found uncongenial, strengthening the Judicial branch at the expense of the Executive branch and asserting the Court's monopoly on the interpretation of the Constitution. Foremost among these cases was Marbury v. Madison 5 US 137 1803. On February 20, 1809 a decision by the Supreme Court stated that the power of the federal government was greater than any individual state.

John Marshall continued in office long enough to serve as Chief Justice during President Andrew Jackson's term of office. His court found the policy of Indian Removal to be unconstitutional, but Jackson replied: "John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it." Jackson was later responsible for The Trail of Tears[?], in an unconstitutional defiance of a Supreme Court ruling.

Congress determines the number of justices on the Court. Although the size of the Supreme Court has been set at nine for many years, it has been smaller in the past. On February 5, 1937 President Franklin Roosevelt proposed to increase the size of the Court so he could appoint justices who would support the constitutionality of his New Deal programs, but even though much of the country approved of the New Deal, they did not approve of his attempts to "pack the court," and the plan failed.

Recently, the Supreme Court delivered a highly controversial 5-4 decision in the Bush v. Gore case which determined the U.S. presidential election, 2000.

Notable decisions:

Notable statements:

See also

External links

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