What does the Supreme Court do?
In essence, the court decides if laws and government actions are constitutional and outlines the breadth and limits of government.
When a case reaches the Supreme Court, typically through a process of several years, it’s important because the precedent the majority opinion sets is then the standard by which future laws are measured. That’s due to the principle of “stare decisis,” Latin for “to stand by a decision,” where a current court should be bound by previous rulings.
Are Supreme Court decisions final?
Yes, in the sense that they can’t be overturned by another body.
But no, in the sense that the court can overturn or change its own precedent over time, as it did with odious decisions allowing racial segregation or with last month’s reversal of the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which had guarantee the constitutional right to obtain an abortion.
Can Congress overrule decisions?
Not directly, but Congress can pass laws that respond to rulings.
For instance, the court ruled in 2007 that Lilly Ledbetter had not filed an equal pay discrimination complaint within the allowed time period (because she had not discovered the discrepancy until years later). President Barack Obama signed a law in 2009 that eliminated those previous restrictions.
What about amending the Constitution?
The Supreme Court interprets the Constitution, so amending the document changes how the court is able to rule. But amending the Constitution is a herculean political task requiring, in theory, mass public support, which doesn’t exist for either party at the moment.
Are Supreme Court justices elected?
No. They’re appointed by the president, and then sent to the Senate to be confirmed.
How many justices are there and who appointed them?
Nine. Each has an equal vote.
Chief Justice John Roberts (George W. Bush, 2005).
Justice Clarence Thomas (George H.W. Bush, 1991).
Justice Samuel Alito (GWB, 2006).
Justice Sonia Sotomayor (Barack Obama, 2009).
Justice Elena Kagan (Obama, 2010).
Justice Neil Gorsuch (Donald Trump, 2017).
Justice Brett Kavanaugh (Trump, 2018).
Justice Amy Coney Barrett (Trump, 2020).
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson (Joe Biden, 2022).
Why do some presidents get to appoint more than others?
Luck and politics. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama each served for eight years and got two justices confirmed each.
Trump served one term and appointed three: one because Obama’s final nominee in 2016 was blocked by Republicans, one due to a retirement and one, just before the 2020 presidential election, due to the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Are there any requirements to be a justice?
No. It’s most common for nominees to now have strong legal pedigrees (Ivy League law school, experience clerking for previous justices or experience on federal appeals courts) but none of that is required.
Kagan was a Harvard Law professor and solicitor general (a top Justice Department attorney) but was never a judge. The late Chief Justice Earl Warren had been the governor of California.
Are Supreme Court justices appointed for life?
Yes, as are the judges for other federal courts, and they can serve until death or retirement. It means they’re in theory insulated from the whims of the political branches. But it doesn’t make the justices popular: Current polls show that fewer than one-third of Americans have confidence in the court.
Can Supreme Court justices be removed?
Yes, via impeachment – the same process used to remove a US president. The House would vote to impeach, and the Senate would have a trial and vote on whether to remove the justice. It’s never happened for a Supreme Court justice, however 。。。