How the Supreme Court Works

How the Supreme Court Works

( – The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest legal authority in the country. At a surface level, its main role is to hear any criminal or civil case that involves or intersects with a point of federal law. The SCOTUS is also directly mentioned in the Constitution, which grants it “judicial power” over our country. But what exactly does this mean, and how exactly does the Supreme Court work?

Supreme Court Justices

Nine judges make up the Supreme Court at a given time. The eight judges currently occupying these positions are:

  • John Roberts
  • Brett Kavanaugh
  • Samuel Alito
  • Sonia Sotomayor
  • Stephen Breyer
  • Neil Gorsuch
  • Clarence Thomas
  • Elena Kagan

One seat is currently vacant due to the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September, 2020.

The Chief Justice, currently John Roberts, presides over public sittings of the Supreme Court. He also presides over the Senate in presidential impeachment proceedings. The other judges are known as Associate Justices.

All Justices are appointed by presidents and confirmed by the Senate. Positions are appointed for life, rather than for a specific term. Each president is responsible for making appointments to the Supreme Court (if any openings exist). Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch are the only judges appointed by Donald Trump as of August 2020. The president also selects the Chief Justice in case of vacancy; John Roberts was appointed to his role by George W. Bush.

Supreme Court Trials

The Supreme Court has “appellate jurisdiction” over all other American courts according to Article III of the U.S. Constitution. Appeals coming from lower courts that involve points of federal law may ultimately be decided there. This does not, however, mean that any case can enter this level of court without meeting certain prerequisites. For example, cases involving public officials or states may proceed directly to the SCOTUS; all other cases must be heard by another lower court first.

Separation of Powers

As the highest authority in federal legal proceedings, the SCOTUS has an important function in terms of the separation of powers. This is the system that prevents any single authority from gaining too much influence in America. The powers of the president, houses of Congress, and the legal system (the three branches of government) are all regulated by one another in an effort to achieve balance for the people.

To this end, the Supreme Court may initiate judicial reviews and strike down laws that violate the Constitution. It may also overturn directives from the president that offend the Constitution or other existing laws.

While the Supreme Court is not in the news as often as the president or the houses of Congress, it carries out a vital stabilizing role in our democracy. Voters need to be aware of the jobs and responsibilities it carries out as well as how it can affect and interact with other branches of government.

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