U. S. Supreme Court Information: Basic Facts & History

Decisions made by the U. S. Supreme Court affects the lives of everyone living in this country, and why we should familiarize ourselves with its history.

Since the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1869 Congress sets the number of Supreme Court Justices. On September 24, 1789, through the authority of the Judiciary Act the Supreme Court of the United States was created. Organized on February 2, 1790, it "handed down its first opinion in 1792."

Originally there were five Associates and a Chief Justice. In 1801 to 1869 Congress changed this number to seven Associate Justices. There are now eight Associate Justices and one Chief Justice, all nominated by the president, and then confirmed by the Senate.

Presently they are as follows: William Hubbs Rehnquist (Chief Justice), and the Associate Justices are John Paul Stevens III, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer

The court's powers are outlined in Article III, Section 1 and 2, of the U. S. Constitution. This court has appellate jurisdiction over all federal courts and over state supreme courts on matters of federal law or Constitutional issues.

Cases come to the Supreme Court via either "Petition for an Extraordinary Writ, "Request for Certification," "On appeal," or "Petition for a Writ of Certiorari."

Those who appeal to this court do so through what is known as a writ of certiorari, which is how most cases come to this court, although a majority are denied, whereby they are asking the court to review a lower court's decision. Even so, the court at its discretion may or may not grant certiorari, i.e. may or may not hear the case. In order to grant certiorari, affirmative votes from four of the justices are required. When the court refuses certiorari, this does not imply that they are agreeing with the lower court's decision. It simply means they do not feel the case has enough substance to be heard. This is further explained from the following quote taken from "The Rules of the Supreme Court of the United States"

"A petition for a writ of certiorari to review a case pending in a United States court of appeals, before judgment is entered in that court, will be granted only upon a showing that the case is of such imperative public importance as to justify deviations from normal appellate practice and to require immediate determination in this Court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2101(e)"

The U.S. Supreme Court's session begins on the first Monday of October and runs through the end of June, sometimes into July. If required, special sessions can be convened. During this time, each month, two weeks are devoted to oral arguments of cases. The other two weeks are devoted to writing opinions and research.

During discussions of cases, which take place in closed conferences, the Chief Justice gives his viewpoints on any specific case. The other Justices then give their views and/or opinions. A vote is taken. The Chief Justice, who stands for the majority, assigns the "˜writing of these opinions." Justices are allowed to write either concurring or dissenting opinions of any case, which are then circulated among them for further comments. The final decisions are then made on these cases and announced from the bench.

Each federal court is assigned one of these Associate Justices where they can issue stays of executions, grant bail, etc.

The Constitution states that justices "hold their Office during good Behavior." It also states, "shall, at stated Times, receive Compensation, which shall not be Diminished during their Continuance in Office." There is no time limit on which these Justices can serve.

The Chief Justice is also assigned to one or more of the Federal Courts. He/she has one vote as do the Associate Justices. The difference is The Chief Justice's power surpasses the authority of the Associate Justices. The Chief Justice presides over the Court, heads the Federal Judiciary. If there is an impeachment of the president, the Chief Justice also presides over the Senate.

The Supreme Court Building, located at 1 First Street, S. E., Washington, D.C. is open year round Monday through Friday, hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The public is able to attend lectures presented by the staff held every hour on the half hour beginning at 9:30 a.m. and ending 3:30 p.m.

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