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The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court

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  1. The Supreme Court

  2. What is the Supreme Court? It is the highest court in the United States and the chief authority in the judicial branch One of three branches of the United States federal government. The Supreme Court hears appeals from decisions of lower federal courts and state supreme courts, and it resolves issues of constitutional and federal law. It stands as the ultimate authority in constitutional interpretation, and its decisions can be changed only by a constitutional amendment.
  3. Cont… Supreme Court Justices are nominated by the President of the United States. The nomination must be approved by a majority vote of the Senate. The Justices serve until they either retire, die or are impeached.  The average tenure for Justices is about 15 years, with a new Justice being appointed to the Court about every 22 months. Presidents appointing the most Supreme Court Justices include George Washington, with ten appointments and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who appointed eight Justices.
  4. It’s Start Established by Article III of the United States Constitution The Supreme Court was first called to assemble on Feb. 1, 1790, in the Merchants Exchange Building in New York City, then the Nation's Capital. The first Supreme Court was made up of: Chief Justice:John Jay, from New York Associate Justices:John Rutledge, from South CarolinaWilliam Cushing, from MassachusettsJames Wilson, from PennsylvaniaJohn Blair, from VirginiaJames Iredell, from North Carolina Due to transportation problems, Chief Justice Jay had to postpone the first actual meeting of the Supreme Court until the next day, Feb. 2, 1790. The Supreme Court spent its first session organizing itself and determining its own powers and duties. The new Justices heard and decided their first actual case in 1792.
  5. Cont… Lacking any specific direction from the Constitution, the new U.S. Judiciary spent its first decade as the weakest of the three branches of government. Early federal courts failed to issue strong opinions or even take on controversial cases. The Supreme Court was not even sure if it had the power to consider the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress.
  6. Cont… This situation changed drastically in 1801 when President John Adams appointed John Marshall of Virginia to be the fourth Chief Justice. The Supreme Court, under John Marshall, defined itself with its historic 1803 decision in the case of Marbury v. Madison. Supreme Court established its power to interpret the U.S. Constitution and to determine the constitutionality of laws passed by congress and the state legislatures. Before settling at nine in 1869, the number of Supreme Court Justices changed six times. In its entire history, the Supreme Court has had only 16 Chief Justices, and over 100 Associate Justices.
  7. How It Works Each term traditionally begins the first Monday in October, and final opinions are issued usually by late June. Justices divide their time between "sittings," where they hear cases and issue decisions, and "recesses" where they meet in private to write their decisions and consider other business before the Court. Court arguments are open to the public in the main courtroom The justices are seated by seniority, with the Chief Justice in the middle. Before public arguments and private conferences, where decisions are discussed, they all shake hands as a show of harmony of purpose.
  8. Cont… As the gavel sounds and justices are seated, a marshal shouts the traditional welcome, which reads in part: "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court." Arguments begin at 10 a.m. and since most cases involve review of decisions by other courts, there are no juries or witnesses, just lawyers from both sides addressing the bench. Arguments usually last about an hour, and lawyers from both sides very often have their prepared briefs interrupted by pointed questions from a justice.
  9. Cont… After the arguments, conferences are scheduled, where justices discuss and vote on the cases. Justices spend much of their time reviewing the cases, and writing opinions. And they must decide which cases they will actually hear in open Court. Each week, the Court receives about 130 petitions for review, decisions by lower courts appealed to the high Court. Relatively few are granted full review. About 7000 such petitions go on the Court's docket each Term. Oral arguments may be heard in about 100 cases each year, but final opinions may only be issued in 80-90 cases. In addition, some 1200 legal applications of various types are filed each year that can be acted on by a single justice. The Court's opinions are final, no exceptions.
  10. The First Supreme Court Justice John Jay Born: December 12, 1745 Birthplace: New York City, New York Education: King's (Columbia) College (Lawyer, Judge) Work: Member of the New York Committee of Correspondence, 1774; Delegate to the Continental Congress, 1774-76; Member of the New York Constitutional Convention, First Chief Justice of New York, 1777; Delegate and elected President of Continental Congress, 1778; Minister to Spain, 1779, Minister to treat the peace with Great Britain, 1782; Secretary of Foreign Affairs, 1784; Contributor to The Federalist, 1788; First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789; Negotiator of Jay Treaty with Great Britain, 1794; Elected Governor of New York, 1797-1801. Died: May 17, 1829
  11. Thurgood Marshall July 2, 1908: Born in Baltimore, Maryland. 1930: Graduates cum laude from Lincoln University, in Lincoln, Pa. 1933: Graduates first in his class from Howard University Law School. 1934: Begins to work for Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 1935: With mentor and friend Charles Hamilton Houston, wins first major civil rights case, Murray v. Pearson, desegregating the University of Maryland Law School. This was the law school Marshall could not attend on the grounds of race. 1954: Wins Brown v. Board of Education case, the landmark lawsuit that ends the legal segregation of schools in America. 1961: Nominated and appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit. Makes 112 rulings, all of them later upheld by the Supreme Court. 1965: Appointed U.S. Solicitor General by President Lyndon Johnson; wins 14 of the 19 cases he argues for the government, 1965-1967. 1967: Becomes first African American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, 1967 to 1991. 1991: Retires from the Supreme Court.
  12. First Female Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Born: March 26, 1930 El Paso, Texas 1946: Graduated from high school, decides to attend Stanford University to study law. 1950: Received her B.A. in economics. 1952: Received her Bachelor of Law in just two years, rather than the customary three. She graduated magna cum laude, ranked third out of 102 students. Despite her honors, she has difficulties finding a job1952-1953: Worked as a deputy county attorney in San Mateo County, California. 1958:1960: Practiced law in Phoenix. 1965-1969: Worked as the assistant attorney general of Arizona. 1969: Appointed to the Arizona State Senate, and was re-elected to two two-year terms. 1973: Became the first woman to serve as state senate majority leader. 1975: Elected judge of Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona. 1981: Appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan on August 19. She was confirmed unanimously by the Senate September 21, and was on the bench on September 25. 2000: Joined with six other justices to stop the Florida election recount, and worked with four other justices to rule that there would be no further recounts, which decided the election in favor of George W. Bush, instead of Al Gore. Time Served on Court: 23 years, 8 months, 28 days
  13. Landmark cases 1803 Marbury v. Madison was the first instance in which a law passed by Congress was declared unconstitutional. The decision greatly expanded the power of the Court by establishing its right to overturn acts of Congress, a power not explicitly granted by the Constitution. Initially the case involved Secretary of State James Madison, who refused to seat four judicial appointees although they had been confirmed by the Senate. 1819 McCulloch v.Maryland upheld the right of Congress to create a Bank of the United States, ruling that it was a power implied but not enumerated by the Constitution. The case is significant because it advanced the doctrine of implied powers, or a loose construction of the Constitution. The Court, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, would sanction laws reflecting “the letter and spirit” of the Constitution. 1857 Dred Scott v.Sandford was a highly controversial case that intensified the national debate over slavery. The case involved Dred Scott, a slave, who was taken from a slave state to a free territory. Scott filed a lawsuit claiming that because he had lived on free soil he was entitled to his freedom. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney disagreed, ruling that blacks were not citizens and therefore could not sue in federal court. Taney further inflamed antislavery forces by declaring that Congress had no right to ban slavery from U.S. territories.
  14. Cont… 1896 Plessyv.Ferguson was the infamous case that asserted that “equal but separate accommodations” for blacks on railroad cars did not violate the “equal protection under the laws” clause of the 14th Amendment. By defending the constitutionality of racial segregation, the Court paved the way for the repressive Jim Crow laws of the South. The lone dissenter on the Court, Justice John Marshall Harlan, protested, “The thin disguise of ‘equal’ accommodations…will not mislead anyone.” 1954 Brown v.Board of Education of Topeka invalidated racial segregation in schools and led to the unraveling of de jure segregation in all areas of public life. In the unanimous decision spearheaded by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court invalidated the Plessy ruling, declaring “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place” and contending that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall was one of the NAACP lawyers who successfully argued the case.
  15. Cont… 1966 Miranda v.Arizona was another case that helped define the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. At the center of the case was Ernesto Miranda, who had confessed to a crime during police questioning without knowing he had a right to have an attorney present. Based on his confession, Miranda was convicted. The Supreme Court overturned the conviction, ruling that criminal suspects must be warned of their rights before they are questioned by police. These rights are: the right to remain silent, to have an attorney present, and, if the suspect cannot afford an attorney, to have one appointed by the state. The police must also warn suspects that any statements they make can be used against them in court. Miranda was retried without the confession and convicted. 1973 Roe v.Wade legalized abortion and is at the center of the current controversy between “pro-life” and “pro-choice” advocates. The Court ruled that a woman has the right to an abortion without interference from the government in the first trimester of pregnancy, contending that it is part of her “right to privacy.” The Court maintained that right to privacy is not absolute, however, and granted states the right to intervene in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
  16. Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) John and Mary Beth Tinker attended public school in Des Moines, Iowa. In December of 1965 a community group in Des Moines decided to protest American involvement in the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands. The Tinkers agreed to wear their black armbands to school. However, principals in the school district, aware of the students' plans created a rule that any student wearing an armband to school would be suspended unless the student removed the armband. Although the Tinkers knew about this rule, they decided to come to school wearing armbands anyway. After refusing to take the armbands off, John and Mary Beth Tinker were sent home by the principal. Their suspension lasted until they agreed to come back to school without the armbands. The Tinkers filed a suit in the U.S. District Court to stop the school principals from enforcing the rule in the future. Although the District Court said that this type of protest was a form of expression protected under the First Amendment's freedom of speech clause, the Court sided with the school officials, saying that the rule was needed to "prevent the disturbance of school activities." The Tinkers appealed their case to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, but they lost. The Tinkers decided to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of the United States.
  17. The Decision In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the students had the right to wear armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. Justice Abe Fortas wrote for the majority. He first emphasized that students have First Amendment rights: “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” While schools certainly have the right to establish rules relating to “the length of skirts or the type of clothing, to hair style,…[or] aggressive, disruptive action or even group demonstrations,” this case does not involve any of those issues. “The school officials banned and sought to punish petitioners for a silent, passive expression of opinion, unaccompanied by any disorder or disturbance on the part of petitioners. There is here no evidence whatever of petitioners' interference, …with the schools' work or of collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone. Accordingly, this case does not concern speech or action that intrudes upon the work of the schools or the rights of other students.” Justice Hugo Black dissented. He pointed out that the case involved a small number of students who refused to obey the instructions of school officials, and argued that allowing this behavior would have a negative effect on schools and on the country as a whole.
  18. More… The Supreme Court has dealt with other school cases since Tinker. In Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, 1986, the Court held that a high school student did not have the right under the First Amendment to use indecent language and sexual metaphors in a speech at a school assembly. In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 1988, the Court ruled that school officials could regulate the content of the student newspaper in any reasonable way. The principal had deleted student articles about teen pregnancy and about the impact of parental divorce on students at the school. In both Fraser and Kuhlmeier, the Court emphasized that students in public schools do not always have the same First Amendment rights as adults in other settings.