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The Supreme Court. I. Background A. Only court mentioned in const. (Article III) B. Consists of 8 Associate Justices and 1Chief Justice. 1. number of.

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Presentation on theme: "The Supreme Court. I. Background A. Only court mentioned in const. (Article III) B. Consists of 8 Associate Justices and 1Chief Justice. 1. number of."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Supreme Court

2 I. Background A. Only court mentioned in const. (Article III) B. Consists of 8 Associate Justices and 1Chief Justice. 1. number of Justices is set by congress. 2. when position of Chief Justice is vacant, the President can appoint someone already on the court (e.g., Rehnquist) or someone not on the court (e.g., Warren, Roberts) C. Highest court in the land – the court of last resort. D. Requirements: 1. Constitutionally, none 2. Common: formal legal experience and prestigious law school

3 E. Key powers: 1. Power of judicial review (established by Marbury v. Madison, 1803). a. More than 1000 laws have been declared unconstitutional. b. More than 160 federal laws have been declared unconstitutional. c. Some presidential actions have been declared unconstitutional. 2. Power to interpret broadly-worded laws of Congress and the Constitution. 3. Power to overrule earlier Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Brown v. Board overturning Plessey v. Ferguson). 4. Set precedent for lower courts 5. Overturn lower court decisions

4 II.Jurisdiction (the authority to try a case) A. Original jurisdiction (the authority to be the first court to hear a case): in cases involving: 1. States 2. Ambassadors B. Appellate jurisdiction (the authority to hear a case already tried in a lower court, appealed by the losing party in the case): in cases from: 1. Courts of Appeals 2. State supreme courts. -- Cases from appellate jurisdiction are far more numerous than from original jurisdiction. III.How cases reach Supreme Court.

5 A. Thousands of requests are made for Supreme Court decisions, but relatively few request are granted. Recent trend is for even fewer cases to be accepted each year. (~80-90 per year) B. Rule of 4: In order for the court to decide a case, 4 Justices must agree to hear it. Denying a decision may mean any number of things: 1. Case lacks a substantial federal/constitutional issue. 2. The party lacks standing (Newdow and the Pledge). 3. Court agrees with a lower court. 4. Case is a “political hot potato” that the Court does not want to touch (gay marriage).

6 C. When a party requests a Supreme Court decision, it files a petition for a writ of certiorari (“to be made certain”). These petitions are reviewed by the Justices on the rule of 4 basis noted above.

7 IV. The Supreme Court at work. A. Term begins on first Monday in October and continues until the end of June. B. Hears cases from Monday- Thursday. Quorum of 6 needed to hear cases. C. Before oral arguments, the Justices read the attorney’s briefs (detailing the arguments the attorney’s want the justices to consider). D. Justices also read amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs from groups and individuals who have a stake in the outcome of the case. E. Justices hear 30” oral arguments from each side. F. At the Friday conference, Justices discuss the cases.

8 G. Simple majority needed for decisions. In case of ties, previous lower court decision stands. H. Written opinions: 1. Types: a. Unanimous: expresses opinion of all nine Justices. ~1/3 of the cases are decided by a 9-0 vote. b. Majority: expresses opinion of majority. This is the decision of the court (also called the “holding” of the court). c. Dissenting: expresses opinion of minority. If the Court later overturns itself, it may draw upon a minority opinion for it’s reasoning. d. Concurring: written by a Justice who agrees with majority’s conclusions, but for different reasons.

9 2. Purposes of opinions. a. Communicate the Court’s reasoning to the public. b. Establish precedents for future cases – importance of stare decisis. c. Drop “hints” that Congress, the states, or the President should take certain actions, e.g., “In the absence of any action by Congress…” V. Possibility of evading Court decisions: The Supreme Court is the highest Court in the land, but it is possible to evade Court decisions:

10 A. Amending the Constitution. The Court cannot strike down something as unconstitutional if it is in the Constitution! B. When a decision is made, it is “remanded” to a lower court to carry out the Supreme Court’s decision. The lower court will have a certain amount of leeway in doing this. C. The executive branch may simply not carry out the decision (e.g., Jackson’s famous line: “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him carry it out.”) D. State and local governments may simply not carry it out either (e.g., desegregation, school prayer)

11 E. “The Constitution may be what the Supreme Court says it is, but a Supreme Court opinion is what a trial judge or a policeman or a school board or a city council says it is.” VI. Voting blocs on the current Supreme Court. A. Liberals. 1. Ruth Bader Ginsberg (Clinton, 1994, 69) 2. Stephen Breyer (Clinton, 1994, 69) 3. Sonia Sotomayor (Obama, 2009, 47) 4. Elena Kagan (Obama, 2010, 50)

12 B. Conservatives. 1. John Roberts (Bush 43, 2005, 51) 2. Antonin Scalia (Reagan, 1986, 70) 3. Clarence Thomas (Bush 41, 1991, 58) 4. Samuel Alito (Bush 43, 2006, 55) C. Swing/ moderate conservative. 1. Anthony Kennedy (Reagan, 1987, 70)

13 10 Questions  1. What are some of the key powers the Supreme Court obtains?  2. How many Justices are needed for the Court to decide a case?  3. Define a per curiam decision and it’s purpose?  4. Identify the different types of written opinions that the Supreme Court decides on?  5. If the Chief Justice votes with the majority, how does he assign the opinions? How about if he voted with the minority?  6. What are some of the politics of opinion writing?  7. What are some possible ways of evading Court decisions?  8. What type of majority is necessary in making decisions?  9. List some voting blocs on the Supreme Court that come from liberals?  10. Who are some voting blocs on the Supreme Court from conservatives?






19 Esmeralda Roman Period 4

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