US Supreme Court The Supreme Court is the highest governing body that is known to us as the people of the United States of America. In the 1998-99 term, the Supreme Court is slated to hear cases on subjects as diverse as business monopolies, labor unions, health insurers, initiative petitions and due process. The justices will also revisit the issue of sexual harassment. The following will just be an overview of how the Supreme Court operates. I will try to point out many things throughout the course of this paper.
The first points I will try to show is who the notable past judges were and what major roles they had in our society. Next, I will move into the justices of today and try to give a brief overview of them. Then I will move into the courts specifically. I will try to show how the courts work, how the justices go about choosing cases, hearing arguments, and making decisions. Lastly, I will give an overview of some of the most historic cases that have been heard by the United States Supreme Court and their decisions. As a result, all of these factors considered should help to give a better understanding of the Supreme Court and how it functions.
Since the Supreme Court’s inception in 1789, 108 justices have served on it. There have been 16 chief justices. Several members of the court became great figures in history or were distinguished for contributions beyond their court service. There are four chief justices that have helped shape the course of the American judiciary system and the nation’s overall progress. John Marshall, who served as chief justice from 1801-1835, was probably the most influential chief justice to serve. Often called the great chief justice, Marshall was instrumental in establishing the court’s authority in the national government.
During his tenure, the court began issuing single, majority opinions, enabling it to speak with a more definitive, unified voice. Rulings over this era bolstered federal power over states. Marshall wrote the 1803 decision in Marbury versus Madison, which established judicial review of laws, passed by Congress. Next, was Charles Evans Hughes who served as associate justice 1910-1916 and chief justice 1930-1941. He presided over the court during the Great Depression and the New Deal era. Next, was William Howard Taft, who served as chief justice 1921-1930.
He was the only person to serve as President from 1909-1913 and as chief justice. President William G. Harding appointed Taft chief justice. He successfully pressed Congress to pass laws that gave the court almost unlimited discretion to decide which cases it will hear. Lastly was Earl Warren, who served as chief justice from 1953-1969. This is another man that people would really recognize because of his affiliation to the FBI. Warren, a former California governor, was appointed by Republican President Eisenhower, and took a decidedly liberal course in a socially stormy era.
His legacy includes decisions forbidding school segregation, fair mapping of voting districts, and enhancing rights of defendants in criminal trials. Just a couple of small things to add on an aside note are the first African-American chief justice was Thurgood Marshall, who served from 1967-1991, and the first female chief justice was Sandra Day O’Connor, who has served from1981-present. Next I would just like to rundown the list of current justices that will be hearing cases for this term. Note that I will try to list the current justices in their order of their seniority, who they were appointed by, and what year they were appointed. The top dog, also known as the chief justice, is William H. Rehnquist, who was appointed associate justice by President Richard M. Nixon in 1971 and was later elevated to chief justice by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
The next justice is John Paul Stevens, appointed by President Gerald R. Ford in 1975. Next is Sandra Day O’Connor appointed by President Reagan in1981. Antonin Scalia was appointed by President Reagan also in 1986. The next justice in line would be Anthony M. Kennedy who was appointed by President Reagan in 1988. The next justice up the ladder is David Souter who was appointed justice by President George Bush in 1990.
The next justice is probably the most controversial figure on the star panel. Clarence Thomas was appointed justice by President Bush in 1991. The two newest justices have recently been appointed by President Bill Clinton. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed in 1993 and Steven G. Breyer was appointed in 1994. This is the team that will be overseeing the cases that are chosen in the 1998-1999 term. The next aspect that I would like to show about the United States Supreme Court is none other than how exactly it works.
The Supreme Court’s efforts to establish the law of the land began in secrecy and mostly solitude. On Friday during the court’s term, which officially begins on the first Monday in October, the nine justices meet in a small, wood-paneled conference room to decide which cases they think are worth hearing. They meet without law clerks, secretaries, or anyone else. The only people that are in the room other than the justices are the junior justices, but we will get to know them later. As a last resort for people who believe that lower courts have failed the as an arbiter of the Constitution, the Supreme Court will, simply by selecting a case, immediately lift the lives and human situations it contains to national significance.
Its rulings affect not only the two contesting parties, known as petitioner and respondent, but may also change life for all Americans for generations to come. About 7,000 petitions arrive by mail or messenger each term at the “Marble Palace,” as historian John Frank called the court’s building on First Street just east of the Capitol. In the end, the justices’ hand down about 80 signed rulings, each reflecting decades of legal precedent, the current justices’ beliefs and personalities and the enduring decorum that defines this 207-year-old institution, the least public of the three branches of national government. The public normally notices only the final decision in a case, but there is much more that occurs before that, most of it behind the scenes in private debate, votes and negotiations among the justices. Choosing cases is another issue the justices have to deal with during the course of their terms.
The justices determine which cases to take. They never explain the reason for their choices. The important factors are whether the legal question has been decided differently by two lower courts and needs resolution by the high court, whether a lower court decision conflicts with an existing Supreme Court ruling and whether the issue could have significance beyond the two parties in the case. For example, the justices likely accepted the sexual harassment case brought by Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, against President Clinton because it will test the important question of whether a president should have to defend himself against a lawsuit while in office. But the justices do not automatically take on all cases posing significant societal dilemmas. Last June, for example, they refused to hear one on the legality of college affirmative action programs. The case did not garner the four votes needed to accept a petition for review and to schedule oral arguments on it. Before those votes are cast in the closed-door session, however, a case must pass over with several of the youngest, least experienced lawyers in America-the 36 law clerks who serve the nine individual justices and who, in effect, are their staff for a term.
These clerks, most often four to a justice, usually are recent law school graduates and typically the cream of their Ivy League schools. It is the clerks who first consider the 7,000 or so annual petitions, settling on the select few that they believe the justices themselves should consider. There is no set number or quota for each week’s conference. With the clerks’ memo in hand and in the closed conference room, the justices summarily reject most of the appeals. They discuss petiti …