Developing Supreme Court Power • Early in the court’s history, it was established neither that the Supreme Court, nor any other federal court may initiate action. • (A judge/justice can not seek out an issue and request that the parties bring their case before the court) • The court must wait for litigants, or those involved in a lawsuit, to appeal to the court
The Supreme Court • The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the United States. • The Court meets in Washington, D.C. in the United States Supreme Court building. The Supreme Court is primarily an appellate court, but it has original jurisdictionover a small range of cases
The Supreme Court • It consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices, who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. • Once appointed, Justices effectively have life tenure, serving "during good Behavior“, which terminates only upon death, resignation, retirement, or conviction on impeachment.
The Marshall Court • The longest serving Chief Justice in Supreme Court history, John Marshall established that the courts are entitled to exercise judicial review, the power to strike down laws that violate the Constitution. • He repeatedly confirmed the supremacy of federal law over state law and supported an expansive reading of the enumerated powers.
John Marshall • John Marshall shaped American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court a center of power. • He established the idea of judicial review in the decision for Marbury v. Madison in 1804
Landmark Cases • Marbury v. Madison, is a landmark case in U.S. law. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the U.S. under Article III of the Constitution. • Marbury v. Madison was the first time the Supreme Court declared something "unconstitutional," and established the concept of judicial review in the U.S. (the idea that courts may oversee and nullify the actions of another branch of government). • The landmark decision helped define the "checks and balances" of the American form of government.
How do they decide which cases to hear? • The Supreme Court decides to hear a case on three major factors: • Is it an appeal by the federal court and is in conflict with the decisions of other circuits • the general importance of the case • whether the lower court's decisions may be wrong in light of the Supreme Court's opinions
A petition for a writ of certiorari is the documentation sent to the Supreme Court of the United States to request that they review a case. • A writ of certiorari ("to be informed") is issued from any appellate court (the Supreme Court is the highest appellate court) to a lower court requesting more information about a case - seeking judicial review.
How do they decide a case? • Once the Supreme Court accepts a case, the lawyers give the Court lengthy, detailed documents called "briefs" – arguing their points and providing legal support for them. • Next, the attorneys typically argue the merits of their cases orally before the Supreme Court (which the public is welcome to attend). The Court considers these briefs and arguments in researching and deciding the cases.
The Conference • After the lawyers complete their oral arguments, the justices debate the case. • Justices spend about 30 minutes per case debating, then they vote. • The majority decision stands.
The Opinion • The opinion states the facts of the case. • The opinions are as important as the decision itself. They set a precedent for the lower courts to follow in future cases and gives the public an explanation for their decision. • There are 4 different opinions: • Unanimous • majority • concurring • dissenting
Opinions • Unanimous: all justices vote the same way (only about 1/3 of the decisions are unanimous) • Majority: expresses the views of a majority of the justices • Concurring: one or more of the justices agree with the majority’s conclusions on the case, but for different reasons • Dissenting: opinion of the justices on the losing side.
Judicial Activism • The philosophy of judicial activism is the charge that judges are going beyond their appropriate powers and engaging in making law and not merely interpreting it. • Justices base their decisions as answers to social and political problems. • Judicial activism is a critical term used by some to describe judicial rulings that they feel are based more upon the judge's personal bias than by existing law.
Judicial Restraint • Judicial restraint encourages judges to limit the exercise of their own power. It asserts that judges should hesitate to strike down laws unless they are obviously unconstitutional. • This means that they base their decisions solely on their interpretation of the Constitution.
Landmark Cases • Fletcher v. Peck (1810), was one of the first cases in which the Supreme Court ruled a state law unconstitutional. • It is the earliest case of the Court asserting its right to invalidate state laws conflicting with the Constitution.
Landmark Cases • Dred Scott v. Sandford was a decision by the United States Supreme Court that ruled that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants — whether or not they were slaves — were not protected by the Constitution and could never be citizens of the United States.
Scott v. Sanford • It also held that the United States Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories. • The Court also ruled that because slaves were not citizens, they could not sue in court. • Lastly, the Court ruled that slaves — as private property — could not be taken away from their owners without due process.
Due Process • Following the Civil War, the Supreme Court issued several rulings on the 13th, 14th, & 15th Amendments. These amendments were intended to ensure the rights of newly freed African Americans, BUT the Court did not apply the due process clause of the 14th Amendment when individuals challenged business or state interests. • The due process clause says that no state may deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law.
Plessy v. Ferguson, (1896), upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation even in public accommodations (particularly railroads), under the doctrine of "separate but equal". • "Separate but equal" remained standard doctrine in U.S. law until it was overturned with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954.
Brown v. Board of Education • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, (1954), overturned earlier rulings going back to Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, by declaring that state laws that established separate public schools for black and white students denied black children equal educational opportunities. • As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. • This victory paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement.