Presentation on theme: "Supreme Court Decision Making"— Presentation transcript:
1 Supreme Court Decision Making Chapter 12Supreme Court Decision Making
2 The Supreme Court at Work Chapter 12 Section 1The Supreme Court at Work
3 The Court’s Procedures During two-week sessions, justices hear oral arguments on cases and then meet in secret to make decisions.The justices consider arguments in cases they have heard and petitions from plaintiffs, and then write opinions for the cases they have decided.Justices’ written opinions interpret the law and help shape public policy.
4 The Court’s Procedures More than 8,900 cases were appealed to the Supreme Court in 2000.The court reviews only about 1% of these cases.The Court gave full hearings and signed opinions in only 83 cases in 2000.It is mainly through these few cases that the Court interprets the law and shapes public policy.
5 How Cases Reach the Court Writ of Certiorari= an order from the Court to a lower court to send up the records on a case for reviewThe party seeking review petitions the Court for certiorari and must argue either that the lower court made a legal mistake in handling the case or that the case raises a significant constitutional issue.Denial of certiorari does not mean the judges agree with the original ruling, but the case may not be important enough to consider.
6 How Cases Reach the Court On AppealThe majority of referred Court cases concern appeals from lower Courts.Most appeals concern cases in which a lower state or federal court has ruled laws unconstitutional.Cases the Court chooses not to hear are dismissed, and the ruling of the lower court becomes final.
7 How Cases Reach the Court The Solicitor GeneralThe Solicitor General is appointed by the president and represents the federal government before the Supreme Court.Selecting CasesThe Chief Justice puts worthy certiorari cases on a list for discussion.If 4 of the 9 justices agree, the case is accepted.2/3 of all certiorari cases never make the list.
8 Steps in Deciding Major Cases The Supreme Court follows a set procedure when hearing important cases:Submitting BriefsOral ArgumentsThe ConferenceWriting the Opinion
9 Submitting BriefsEach side submits a brief detailing legal arguments, facts, and precedents.Brief: written statement setting for the legal arguments, relevant facts, and precedents supporting one side of the caseParties not directly involved but with an interest in the case my submit amicus curiae briefs.Amicus Curiae: “friend of the court;” information coming from individuals, interest groups, or government agencies claiming to have information useful to the court’s consideration of the case
10 Oral ArgumentsLawyers for each side make oral arguments during which justices may ask questions.Each side is allowed 30 minutes to summarize the key points of its case.A white light on the lectern indicates that a lawyer has five minutes- the red light means the lawyer must stop talking immediately.
11 The ConferenceOn Wednesdays and Fridays the Chief Justice presides over a secret conference in which each single case is summarized and recommendations for handling it are made.The justices spend about 30 minutes debating each case.Each justice has one vote and a majority vote is needed to decide a case.
12 Writing the OpinionThe justices may issue four kinds of opinions: a unanimous opinion, a majority opinion, a concurring opinion, or a dissenting opinion.Unanimous Opinion: all justices vote the same wayMajority Opinion: expresses the views of the majority of the justices on a caseConcurring Opinion: written by justices who agree with the majority’s conclusions about a case but for different reasonsDissenting Opinion: opinion of justices on the losing side in a case
13 Writing the OpinionIf the chief justice votes with the majority, he or she assigns a justice in the majority to write the Court’s opinion.If the chief justice does not vote in the majority, the most senior justice with the majority assigns a justice to write the opinion.
15 Tools for Shaping Public Policy The Court is both a legal and political institution.It is a legal institution because it is ultimately responsible for settling disputes and interpreting laws.It is a political institution because when it applies laws to specific disputes, it often determines what national policy will be.
16 Tools for Shaping Public Policy The Court determines policy in three ways:Using judicial reviewInterpreting lawsOverruling or reversing its previous decisions.The Court has become an agent of change.
17 Judicial ReviewUsing judicial review, the Court may examine laws and actions at all levels of government and cancel them if they violate the Constitution.The Court uses judicial review most often at the state and local levels, but decisions may have as much significance as those at the federal level, as in the Brown (1954) and Miranda (1966) cases.
18 Interpreting Laws.The Court’s interpretation of the very general language of laws allows it to decide how the law applies to specific situations.The Supreme Court decides what Congress means within legislation that is signed into law.
19 Overturning Other Decisions The Court’s rulings become precedents on which to base other, similar decisions; however, since times change, the Court may overturn or reverse its earlier decisions.New justices can bring different legal views to the Court and, over time, shift its position on some issues.
20 Limits on the Supreme Court Despite its importance, the Court does not have unlimited power.Restrictions on the court include:Limits on types of issuesLimits on types of casesLimited control over agendaLack of enforcement powerChecks and balances
21 Limits on Types of Issues Generally, the Court’s decisions have dealt largely with civil liberties, economic issues, federal laws and regulations, due process, and suits against government officials.The Court plays only a minor role in the area of foreign policy.
22 Limits on Types of Issues Civil liberties cases make up the largest number of Court cases.Appeals from prisoners comprise about one- fourth of its cases.Most cases concern constitutional issues, such as the right to a fair trial and the proper use of evidence.
23 Limits on Types of Cases By its rules and customs, the Court hears only cases where its decision will make a difference, not merely those which decide a point of law.The Court does not issue advisory opinions.Advisory Opinion: a ruling on a law or action that has not been challenged
24 Limits on Types of Cases Plaintiffs must have suffered real harm.It is not enough for people to simply object to a ruling.Cases must involve a federal question.The legal issues in dispute must affect many people or the operation of the political system itself.The Court avoids political issues.The Court believes some issues should be worked out in Congress or the executive.
25 Limited Control Over Agenda Since the Court can decide only those cases that come to it from elsewhere in the legal system, events beyond the Court’s control shape its agenda.The Court may signal its interest in a subject by taking on a specific case.
26 Lack of Enforcement Power The Court’s power to shape public policy also is limited by its own limited ability to enforce its decisions.Noncompliance by other courts also is difficult to monitor.Lower court judges may simply ignore a Supreme Court decision.It is nearly impossible to monitor millions of trial court rulings.
27 Checks and BalancesThe legislative and executive branches are able to influence or check the Supreme Court’s power.The president must appoint justices and the Senate must approve those appointments.Congress can impeach and remove justices.
29 Decision Making Five forces shape the decisions the Court makes: Existing lawsPersonal views of the justicesJustices interactions with one anotherSocial forces and public attitudesCongress and the President
30 Basing Decisions on the Law Justices must base their opinions on the law, not on personal opinions.Laws and the Constitution are not always clear in their meaning.The Court must interpret laws and relate their interpretations to the Constitution itself, relevant statutes, and legal precedents.
31 Views of the JusticesJustices monitor important issues; some become identified with them.As justices retire, the majority voting blocs on certain issues may change.Bloc: coalitions of justicesOne bloc is has consistently tended toward liberal positions on civil rights and economic issues while another has been more conservative.
32 Relations Among the Justices Modern justices meet for discussion, but most communicate in writing.Harmony or ConflictPersonal relations among justices may influence the Court’s decisions.Justices try to avoid open conflict, even when they disagree with each other.Influence of the Chief JusticeThe chief justice’s skillful leadership can help promote harmony.
33 The Court and Society Concern for Public Support Although insulated from public opinion and political pressures, the Court needs public support.Its authority depends in part on public acceptance.Influence of Social ForcesJustices are influenced by the values and beliefs of society.Their decisions usually reflect important societal changes.
34 Balancing the Court’s Power The President’s InfluenceThe power of presidents to fill vacancies on the Court gives them influence over the Court.Every full-term president except Carter has appointed a justice.As head of the executive branch, the president is responsible for enforcing the Court’s decisions but may do so vigorously or with little enthusiasm.
35 Balancing the Court’s Power The Influence of CongressCongress has the power to limit the Court’s ability to hear certain cases.Congress can propose a constitutional amendment to overturn a decision.May set, but not reduce, the justices’ salaries.Congress uses its confirmation power to shape the Court’s position on social issues.