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Chapter 7: The Judicial Branch. Section 3: The Supreme Court pp. 182-189. Reading Focus. The Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch of the federal government. It is the only court specifically established by the Constitution. Its decisions affect the lives of all Americans.

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chapter 7 the judicial branch

Chapter 7:The Judicial Branch

Section 3:

The Supreme Court

pp. 182-189

reading focus
Reading Focus
  • The Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch of the federal government.
  • It is the only court specifically established by the Constitution.
  • Its decisions affect the lives of all Americans.
supreme court justices
Supreme Court Justices
  • The size of the Supreme Court is decided by Congress, which was set at nine in 1869.
  • The Court has a chief justice, who is the principal judge, and eight associate justices.
  • They are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate (majority vote).
  • Appointed for life (can only be removed by the impeachment process).
  • Annual Salary is $223,500 (chief) and $213,900 (associates).

The Constitution does not set any requirements for the Supreme Court justices.

  • All have been lawyers. Many have served as judges on lower courts. Others have taught law or held public office.
  • Up until 1981, all were men.
  • Presidents generally try to appoint justices who share their political beliefs.
power of judicial review
Power of Judicial Review
  • A unique power of the US court system is the courts’ power of judicial review.
  • The courts have the power to determine whether a law or a presidential action is in accord with the Constitution.
  • The Supreme Court can declare that a law is unconstitutional (in order to do this, someone must challenge the law and bring a case to court).
  • John Marshall gave this power to the Supreme Court, not from the Constitution.
influence of john marshall
Influence of John Marshall
  • John Marshall was the chief justice for 34 yrs.
  • He established 3 basic judicial principals:
    • Promoted the idea of judicial review (1803-Marbury v. Madison – deemed the Judiciary Act was unconstitutional).
    • The Constitution is superior to laws passed by state legislatures if a legal conflict between the two arises.
    • The Supreme Court has the power to reverse the decisions of state courts. Therefore, the Supreme Court has become the final interpreter of the Constitution.
hearing cases
Hearing Cases
  • The Supreme Court cannot begin a case itself. It is an appeals court.
  • Thousands of cases are appealed to the Court each year. The Court chooses only about 100-200 of these cases to place on its annual docket (calendar).
  • The justices accept only those cases that involve issues of significant public interest. Cases heard by the Court generally deal with important constitutional or national questions.
  • At least 4 of 9 justices must vote to hear a case.
  • If the Supreme Court refuses to review a case, the decision of the lower court remains in effect.
  • The Court may also remand, or return, a case to a lower court for a new trial.
the court in action
The Court in Action
  • The Supreme Court begins its session each year on the first Monday in October. Usually adjourns in late June.
  • The justices spend much of their time reading written arguments, hearing, oral arguments, and holding private meetings.
  • Each justice has one vote, and decisions are reached by a simple majority.
  • After agreeing to hear a case, the lawyers for each side prepare a brief (a written statement explaining the main points of one side’s arguments about the case.
  • The next step takes place in public session.
  • The lawyers for each side appear before the Court to present an oral argument (30 min).
  • The justices question the lawyers (brings out the facts).

One of the justices who supported the majority decision is assigned to write the opinion of the Court. An opinion explains the reasoning that led to the decision.

  • Sometimes a justice agrees with the decision of the majority, but for different reasons. In that case the justice may decide to write a concurring opinion.
  • Justices who disagree with the decision of the Court may explain their reasoning in a dissenting opinion. They have no effect on the law, however, later on these may become the law of the land when the beliefs of society and the opinions of the justices changed.
checking the court s power
Checking the Court’s Power
  • The Supreme Court has a great deal of power.
  • If they determine a law to be unconstitutional, Congress may pass a new law that follows the Constitution and the Supreme Court may uphold (laws can improve while our rights remain protected).
  • Another way to make a desired law constitutional is to amend the Constitution. If the Supreme Court says a law is unconstitutional, amend the Constitution so that it is legal!
  • Income tax (unconstitutional): States ratified the 16th Amendment: gives Congress the power to tax a person’s income.
changing court opinions
Changing Court Opinions
  • The Supreme Court has helped make the Constitution a flexible document by interpreting it differently at different times.
  • Therefore, the Court changes with the different political, social, and economic conditions in the US.
  • In the 1800s, segregation laws were passed (separated Whites and Blacks in the US). These have since changed as all people were guaranteed the same rights and freedoms.

In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson court case was brought to the Supreme Court. This challenged a Louisiana law that required African Americans and whites to ride in separate railroad cars.

  • Challenged the 14th Amendment, “equal protection under the law.”
  • The Supreme Court ruled against Plessy because there were facilities available to Plessy. This became know as “separate but equal.”
  • However, facilities were clearly not equal for African Americans and whites.

In 1954, the Supreme Court tried the case of Brown v. Board of Education concerning a 7 year old girl in Kansas that wanted to go to a closer school which was for whites only.

  • The Court ruled that the segregated schools were not equal.
  • The Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision and made all schools desegregate.
  • Therefore, the 14th Amendment was interpreted two different ways because social times had changed.
strengthening constitutional rights
Strengthening Constitutional Rights
  • In recent years, the Supreme Court has made changes in three areas:
  • Rights of Accused Persons:
  • 1960s: Supreme Court gave more rights to people who were accused.
  • In Miranda v. Arizona the Court decided that police must inform arrested suspects of their rights before questioning (remain silent, anything they say can be used against them, right to have a lawyer present while being questioned, a lawyer can be appointed).

“One Person, One Vote”

  • The Court made several decisions in the 1960s concerning voting and representation in state legislatures and the House of Representatives.
  • Result: election districts for choosing representatives to Congress and the state legislatures must be divided by population as equally as possible
  • States will try to make sure every citizen’s vote is equal in value.

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties:

  • 1954, Brown v. Board of Ed did not completely end segregation but it was the starting point.
  • The Civil Rights movement followed which led to civil rights laws.
  • Segregation laws were removed, while laws guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote were passed.
  • The Supreme Court ruled that all rights guaranteed in the Constitution applied to all Americans.
the court s prestige
The Court’s Prestige
  • Throughout US history, the prestige and dignity of the Supreme Court have grown.
  • Supreme Court justices have remained out of politics and have stayed away from favors or bribes.
  • Their rulings have faced criticism (too liberal or too conservative).
  • FDR tried to add more Justices, but the people said no (did not want to rule the balance of power).
  • The Court makes decisions but the Executive Branch must carry out its decisions.