The US Supreme Court is the highest court on the land charged with the responsibility of interpreting important questions about the constitution. It is made up of the chief justice and eight associate justices. The president is given the power to nominate the judges and such appointments are made with concert and advice from the senate. The existence of the Supreme Court is captured in Article III of the US constitution “the judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme court, and in such inferior courts establish”. It is from this background that the Supreme Court came into existence on February 2, 1790. The Supreme Court enjoys the power to decide in all cases arising under the law. To efficiently carry out its function, the Supreme Court is assisted by court officers such as the Administrative Assistant to the Chief justice, clerk, librarian, and the Marshal.
As articulated in the US Constitution Article III (i) “the judges, both of the supreme court and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during behavior, and diminished during their continuance in office.” The position of the judges is constitutional. The court is open to the public every day from Monday to Friday from 9.00 am to 4.30 pm. Its terms begin on the first Monday of October and run to the first Monday of October in the next year.
Procedures of a case and how decisions are made
Under the power of extraordinary jurisdiction, the state’s supreme court can take control of any case pending in the lower courts when the court has to address matters of ” immediate public importance” This power of extraordinary jurisdiction is used on rare occasions by the supreme court about three times a year. The courts have ordinary jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters. The decision of the lower court can be challenged on appeal to the court of appeal. The President and the congress have some control over the judiciary vested in their power to appoint and confirm appointments of justices and judges. The courts have limited powers to implement decisions made in incidents where the president chooses to ignore the rulings. The court’s most essential power is the authority to interpret the law. The Supreme Court’s power is seen in the ability to overrule itself as in Brown v. Board of Education 1954. The judicial power of the Supreme Court extends to all cases in law and equity arising from the fundamental law i.e. the constitution.
Cases are presented before the court via a petition filed by a party to the case or an appeal for certain decisions from lower courts. The selection of cases is a product of the justice’s clerks documenting a brief account of questions and giving recommendations. The Chief Justice prepares a list of petitions for discussion during the justice’s regular conferences. A vote of four justices grants a case a place in the court’s calendar. Parties to a case file legal briefs stating their arguments before an oral discourse. When the court decides to hold a hearing each attorney representing the two parties is allowed thirty minutes to orally state their case. During the arguments, the justices are allowed to interrupt the attorney and ask questions or seek clarification.
After the oral proceedings, the justices confine into a conference to deliberate the application of law in the case. Each Justice presents an opinion of the basis on which the case should be judged. The votes are then tallied and the Chief Justice is assigned dissenting opinion. A Justice may change opinion during the circulation of the opinion and hence affecting the outcome of the decision. A majority opinion is reached by a consensus of the justices (5 is considered a majority opinion) and this is the decision of the court. Sometimes a plurality opinion is made in rare incidents where less than four justices agree on one opinion in the event that the others cannot agree on one opinion. It is also common for justice to write a concurring opinion. This is a written opinion that concurs with the majority opinion of the court. The justice states the reasons he holds which are different from the court’s opinion. This is mainly an agreement on the decision but not the reasoning behind the court’s opinion. If justice does not agree with the majority decision can submit dissenting opinion to give alternative points of view. The opinion has no legal weight but it is very essential in setting arguments for future cases. Unlike the concurring opinion, the dissenting opinion does not agree with the court’s decision due to the varied interpretation of the law and different principles.
A tied vote may occur in the failure of all the nine justices to vote or when there is a vacancy. In such settings, no opinions are issued as the case is considered unbinding as the court is considered equally divided. The normal quorum of Justices to hear a case is six. The Supreme Court decisions citation is made up of the names of the parties as “petioneer vs Respondent” the volume number and the year ( Vic vs Does, 512 U.S 223 1999) The decision is published as a slip opinion before being transferred to the United States Report.
More generally, interest must be taken in the attempt to appropriately contextualization of decision-making processes as an important political activity. Strategic decision-making of the Supreme Court is an extensive process pegged on aggressive grants and defensive denials on the Vinson and warren courts (Clayton, W.C 1999 PG 13). The ideologies of individual justices and the distinctive features of the courts influence the decision-making of the Supreme Court. The US supreme decision in Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) is one of the instrumental case studies of decision highlights of the Supreme Court in determining changes in National and social policies. This case challenged the constitution of racial segregation in public schools. The case, later on, became a foundation of legal groundwork by (NAACP) National Association for the Advancement of colored people in its objectives to stop the segregated system.
The rule of the court refers to absolute equality in the application of the law. Equal distribution of the decision is pegged on the senior associate justices even in the presence of the vast majority opinion sourced from the chief justices. According to Chief Justice Warren “I do believe that if (assigning opinions) was not done with fairness, it could well lead to gross disruption in the court….during all the years I was there…. I did try very hard to see that we had an equal workload.” The Supreme Court as revealed in the words of Justice Warren sticks and maintains track on the equal distribution of the Court’s decision among the Justices.
Brown’s legacy continues today for more than seventy years when African- American law students challenged the unequal treatment of minority groups. Discussions about the role of race in higher education with cases challenging affirmative action and racial quotas still dominate the Supreme Court today. In this case, the court found out that the denial to admit qualified law students in white denominated schools just because of their black color could not withstand the test of justice. This eventually opened more opportunities for black students to access higher education. As stated, “As this case involves the admission of a Negro to a graduate professional school, there is no reason for delay. He is entitled to prompt admission under the rules and regulations applicable to other qualified candidates” (Florida Hawkins v. Board of control of Florida et al, 350 US 143).
In the current settings, the pivotal role of the Supreme Court goes further beyond the voting records and applies close scrutiny. The work of the court is best understood when placed in a broader political, social-cultural and economic context. This is a necessary prerequisite in the comprehension of legislative matters within the Supreme Court. Historical development in political institutions and social movements has influenced decision-making in key cases in the Supreme Court. Through the use of universal freedom and the concept of minority-majority coalitions the Supreme Court has universalized and expanded decisions making for all Americans. Each year the Supreme Court wears a number of cases that might begin in the federal or staff courts. The ideological composition of the federal courts in the US is aimed at promoting equality to all citizens of the US.
The Supreme Court as a social institution is essential for promoting national interests and the application of justice to all Americans. The bureaucratic decision-making of the federal court includes a substantive review and input from the highest level of ideology when the ideological composition of the court opts for an administrative proceeding in the enforcement of the court’s decision. The quest for universal freedom has found its way in the courts with cases of racial discrimination and minority group discrimination. The federal court system applies universal justice in their decisions. Cases in the Supreme Court are disposed of summarily by unassigned orders such orders deny a petition without comment. The US constitution is over 220 years old and contains provisions opposing discriminations along gender, racial or ethnic line. Equal protection jurisprudence involves “the equal application of the law.” Through the quest for their own freedom, African-American have universalized and expanded the freedom for all Americans.
Clayton, W.C (1999) Images of America. Arcadia.
Hofstadler, R (1964) The American political tradition: And the men who made it. vintage.
Segal, A.J and Harold J (2005) Supreme Court/ Decision Making.
Walton H (2007) American Politics and the African American Quest for Universal Freedom.