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Supreme Court Decision Making

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Presentation on theme: "Supreme Court Decision Making"— Presentation transcript:

1 Supreme Court Decision Making
Chapter 12 Supreme Court Decision Making

2 The Supreme Court at Work
Chapter 12 Section 1 The 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 review The 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 Appeal The 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 General The Solicitor General is appointed by the president and represents the federal government before the Supreme Court. Selecting Cases The 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 Briefs Oral Arguments The Conference Writing the Opinion

9 Submitting Briefs Each 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 case Parties 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 Arguments Lawyers 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 Conference On 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 Opinion The 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 way Majority Opinion: expresses the views of the majority of the justices on a case Concurring Opinion: written by justices who agree with the majority’s conclusions about a case but for different reasons Dissenting Opinion: opinion of justices on the losing side in a case

13 Writing the Opinion If 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.

14 Chapter 12 Section 2 Shaping Public Policy

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 review Interpreting laws Overruling or reversing its previous decisions. The Court has become an agent of change.

17 Judicial Review Using 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 issues Limits on types of cases Limited control over agenda Lack of enforcement power Checks 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 Balances The 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.

28 Influencing Court Decisions
Chapter 12 Section 3 Influencing Court Decisions

29 Decision Making Five forces shape the decisions the Court makes:
Existing laws Personal views of the justices Justices interactions with one another Social forces and public attitudes Congress 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 Justices Justices monitor important issues; some become identified with them. As justices retire, the majority voting blocs on certain issues may change. Bloc: coalitions of justices One 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 Conflict Personal 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 Justice The 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 Forces Justices 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 Influence The 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 Congress Congress 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.

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