Federal Judicial Branch: STEP 3
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the nation. The Constitution provides, in Article III, section 1, that the judicial authority of the United States "shall be vested in one supreme Court," as well as any inferior courts that Congress may create and establish. In accordance with this provision, Congress passed the Judiciary Act on September 14, 1789, establishing the Supreme Court.
The primary function of the Supreme Court is to interpret the laws of the Federal Government. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over matters involving treaties, controversies between states, and all cases questioning the Constitution. The Supreme Court also prescribes some rules of procedure to be followed by lower Federal courts.
Like the Presidency and Congress, the Supreme Court has evolved over time, and its decisions affect national events. There is no constitutional provision for the number of justices, and the court has had as few as three. Congress also initially required that Justices hear cases twice a year in local circuit courts, with the intention of keeping them abreast of local and state opinion. In addition to the court's physical evolution, Supreme Court decisions from Marbury v. Madison to Brown v. Topeka Kansas Board of Education to Bush v. Gore have had as strong an impact on national politics as any Presidential policy or Congressional statute.
Today, the Supreme Court consists of one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. Every Justice must be nominated by the President, and confirmed by the United States Senate. Appointments to the Supreme Court are for life. You may be interested to know that the Chief Justice is not necessarily the Justice who has served the longest term. The President chooses the Chief Justice, and when he or she retires, the President can nominate another Chief Justice from the sitting Associate Justices, or nominate a fresh person. Either way, the new Chief Justice must be confirmed by the Senate.
The Supreme Court began its existence in vacant committee rooms in the Capitol building, but has occupied its own building on Capitol Hill since 1935. Located directly across the Street from the Capitol, the building is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, Monday through Friday, except for Federal holidays. Tours can be arranged by calling my office at 202-225-4272. You may also witness oral arguments, which begin at 10 a.m., but seating is on a first-come, first-seated basis. Please take time to visit the Supreme Court website as well.
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