Supreme Court of the United States

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Law

United States of America
The Supreme Court
of the United States
The Court
Main Article  · Decisions
Process  · History  · Building
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
John Paul Stevens ·  Antonin Scalia
Anthony Kennedy ·  David Souter
Clarence Thomas ·  Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer ·  Samuel Alito
Retired Associate Justice
Sandra Day O'Connor
All members
By Court · By seat · By time in office
Chief Justices · By time in office
All nominations
Unsuccessful nominations
Court demographics

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the United States and is the only part of the judicial branch of the United States federal government explicitly specified in the United States Constitution. It is assigned the highest appellate authority among the Courts that Congress is authorized to create.

The court consists of nine Justices: The Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices. The Justices are nominated by the President and confirmed with the " advice and consent" of the Senate. They are appointed to serve "during a term of good behaviour," which almost always means for life, and leave office only upon death, retirement, resignation, or impeachment and subsequent conviction.

The Supreme Court is the only Court established in the United States Constitution (in Article III). Congress creates all other federal courts:

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

The Supreme Court has both original and appellate jurisdiction, with appellate jurisdiction accounting for most of the Court's caseload. The Court's original jurisdiction (in which it is the first and only court to rule) is narrowly focused, as defined in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution: "In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction." The Court's appellate jurisdiction encompasses "all cases" within the scope of Article III, but is subject to limitation imposed by acts of Congress under the Exceptions Clause in Article III, and by the discretion of the Court.

The Supreme Court meets in Washington, D.C., in the United States Supreme Court building. The Court is sometimes unofficially referred to by the abbreviations SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) and USSC (United States Supreme Court). The Court's yearly terms usually start on the first Monday in October and technically continue for a full year, although in practice the Court usually does not convene between late June and late September. Each term consists of alternating two-week intervals. During the first interval, the Court is in session ('sitting') and hears cases, and during the second interval, Court hearings are recessed to consider and write opinions on cases they have heard.


The Supreme Court met in this windowless chamber in the United States Capitol from 1819 until 1860.  The room has been restored, and is now preserved as the Old Supreme Court Chamber.
The Supreme Court met in this windowless chamber in the United States Capitol from 1819 until 1860. The room has been restored, and is now preserved as the Old Supreme Court Chamber.

The Supreme Court's history is often distinguished by using the name of the Chief Justice during the period of interest. Thus, for example, the Court between 1969 and 1986 is referred to as the "Burger Court" (for Chief Justice Warren E. Burger) and the Court between 1986 and 2005 is referred to as the "Rehnquist Court" (for Chief Justice William Rehnquist).

Initially, during the tenures of Chief Justices Jay, Rutledge, and Ellsworth (1789–1801), the Court lacked a home of its own and, having not established a clear position in the governmental hierarchy, it had little real power or prestige.

That changed during the Marshall Court (1801–1835), during which precedent was established which declared the Court to be the supreme arbiter of the Constitution.

That Court also made several important rulings which gave shape and substance to the Constitutional balance of power between the Federal government (referred to at the time as the "general" government) and the states. But Martin v. Hunter's Lessee established limits on Federal power—although the Federal Supreme Court declared itself supreme over Virginia's highest court, there were practical difficulties enforcing its judgment in a hostile state. The Marshall Court ended the practice of each judge issuing his opinion seriatim, a remnant of British tradition, and instead issued one majority "opinion of the Court" in each case. The Marshall Court also saw Congress impeach and try a sitting Justice, Samuel Chase, who was acquitted. This impeachment was part of the power struggle between the Jeffersonians and the Federalists after the election of 1800 and the subsequent change in power. Failure to remove Chase is thought to be a signal that Congress recognized judicial independence.

The Taney Court (1836–1864) made several important rulings, such as Sheldon v. Sill, which held that while Congress may not limit the subjects the Supreme Court may hear, the Constitution does not so restrain Congress in regard to the lower Federal courts. However, the Taney Court is primarily remembered for its ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford, the case which was a part of the conflict between slave holding interests (largely in the South) and other commercial and religious interests (largely in the North). In the years following the Civil War, the Chase (1864-1873), Waite (1873-1888), and Fuller (1888-1910) Courts interpreted the new Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution, and among other things developed the doctrine of substantive due process ( Lochner v. New York; Adair v. United States). Under the White (1910-1921) and Taft (1921-1930) Courts, the substantive due process doctrine reached its first apogee ( Adkins v. Children's Hospital), and the Court held for the first time that the 14th Amendment applied some provisions of the Bill of Rights to the states ( Gitlow v. New York).

During the Hughes (1930-1941), Stone (1941-1946), and Vinson (1946-1953) Courts, the Supreme Court finally got a building (see United States Supreme Court building) and radically changed its interpretation of the Constitution, which facilitated some of the New Deal policies of President Roosevelt and the Congress of the 1930s. for instance, West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish gave an expanded application of the powers of the Federal Government, as compared to the previously understood more limited role.

The Warren Court (1953–1969) made several alternately celebrated, then often controversial, rulings expanding the application of the Constitution to civil liberties, leading a considerable change in the scope of substantive due process. It held that segregation was unconstitutional ( Brown v. Board of Education) in public (ie, tax supported) schooling, that the Constitution protects a general right to privacy ( Griswold v. Connecticut), that schools cannot sponsor or impose official prayer on students ( Engel v. Vitale) nor mandatory Bible readings either ( Abington School District v. Schempp), dramatically increased the scope of the doctrine of incorporation ( Mapp v. Ohio and Miranda v. Arizona), found that the Fifth Amendment ( Bolling v. Sharpe) required equal protection of the laws to all, held that the states may not apportion a chamber of their legislatures in the manner in which the United States Senate is apportioned ( Reynolds v. Sims), and held that the Constitution requires active compliance ( Gideon v. Wainwright).

The Burger Court (1969–1986) ruled that abortion was included in the Constitutionally protected right to privacy ( Roe v. Wade), made several somewhat contradictory rulings on affirmative action ( Regents of the University of California v. Bakke) and campaign finance regulation ( Buckley v. Valeo), and ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional as it violated the cruel and unusual prohibition in the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution ( Furman v. Georgia), but later held that it was not unconstitutional after all if done in particular ways ( Gregg v. Georgia).

The Rehnquist Court (1986–2005) narrowed the scope of private right of action, the right of labor unions to picket ( Lechmere Inc. v. NLRB), and of the ruling in Roe v. Wade regarding abortion ( Planned Parenthood v. Casey), but dramatically restricted state range of action in regulating abortion ( Stenberg v. Carhart), gave sweeping meaning to ERISA pre-emption ( Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., Egelhoff v. Egelhoff) thereby denying plaintiffs access to state court with the consequence of limiting compensation for tort-like harm to medical patients covered by employer plans to very circumscribed remedies ( Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, CIGNA Healthcare of Texas Inc. v. Calad) and began a very striking expansion of a kind of federalism, limiting the scope of Congressional power under the Constitution's Commerce Clause ( United States v. Lopez; United States v. Morrison).

The Roberts Court (2005-present) began with the confirmation and swearing in of John Roberts on September 29, 2005, and is the current court.


Size of the court

The Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States as of 2006. Top row (left to right): Stephen G. Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Samuel A. Alito. Bottom row (left to right): Anthony M. Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Antonin G. Scalia, and David H. Souter.
The Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States as of 2006. Top row (left to right): Stephen G. Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Samuel A. Alito. Bottom row (left to right): Anthony M. Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Antonin G. Scalia, and David H. Souter.

The United States Constitution does not specify the size of the Supreme Court; instead, Congress has the power to fix the number of Justices. Originally, the total number of Justices was set at six by the Judiciary Act of 1789. As the country grew geographically, the number of Justices steadily increased to correspond with the growing number of judicial circuits. The court was expanded to seven members in 1807, nine in 1837 and ten in 1863. In 1866, however, Congress wished to deny President Andrew Johnson any Supreme Court appointments, and therefore passed the Judicial Circuits Act, which provided that the next three Justices to retire would not be replaced; thus, the size of the Court would eventually reach seven by attrition. Consequently, one seat was removed in 1866 and a second in 1867. The Circuit Judges Act of 1869 again set the number of judges at nine (the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices), where it has remained ever since.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to expand the Court in his proposed Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937. His plan would have allowed the President to appoint one new, additional justice for every justice who reached the age of seventy but did not retire from the bench, until the Court reached a maximum size of fifteen justices. Ostensibly, this was to ease the burdens of the docket on the elderly judges, but it was widely believed that the President's actual purpose was to add Justices who would favour his New Deal policies, which had been regularly ruled unconstitutional by the Court. This plan, referred to often as the Court Packing Plan, failed in Congress. The Court, however, moved from its opposition to Roosevelt's New Deal programs, rendering the President's effort moot (see the switch in time that saved nine). In any case, Roosevelt's long tenure in the White House allowed him to appoint eight Justices to the Supreme Court and promote one Associate Justice to Chief Justice; upon his death in 1945, all but one of the Court's members were his appointees.

Nomination, confirmation and tenure of Justices

Article II of the United States Constitution accords the power to appoint Justices to the President of the United States, acting with the " advice and consent" of the Senate. As a general rule, Presidents nominate individuals who broadly share their ideological views. However, the Senate may decline to confirm for any reason, including those whose views are perceived as extreme (see list of failed Supreme Court nominations). In many cases, a Justice's decisions after being confirmed to the Court may be contrary to what the nominating President anticipated. A famous instance was Chief Justice Earl Warren; President Eisenhower expected him to be a conservative judge (he had been a famous and active prosecutor in California), but his decisions are arguably among the most liberal in the Court's history. Eisenhower later called the appointment "the biggest damn fool mistake I ever made".

While the President may nominate anyone (there are no Constitutional qualifications for prior legal or judicial experience, nor are there any exclusions of foreign-born nominees), the "advice and consent" of the Senate is required. The confirmation process often attracts considerable attention from special-interest groups, many of which lobby senators to confirm or to reject in the expectation that the Justice will rule particular ways after joining the Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee conducts hearings, questioning nominees to determine their suitability. Thereafter, the whole Senate considers the nomination in the light of the Committee's report; a simple majority vote is required to confirm a nominee. Failed confirmations are relatively uncommon; the Senate has explicitly rejected only twelve nominees since 1787. The most recent Senate refusal to confirm came in 1987, when the Senate refused to confirm Robert Bork. In 1991, Clarence Thomas's nomination became controversial after allegations of sexual harassment from a former employee (and law professor -- Anita Hill), but the Senate eventually confirmed him by a vote of 52-48.

Not everyone nominated by the President has received a floor vote in the Senate. Although Senate rules do not allow a Supreme Court nominee to be blocked in committee, a nominee may be filibustered once debate on his nomination has begun in the full Senate. A filibuster indefinitely prolongs the debate thereby preventing a final vote on the nominee. It is also possible for the President to withdraw a nominee's name at any time before the actual confirmation vote occurs. This usually happens when the President feels that the nominee has little chance of being confirmed. Most recently, President George W. Bush granted a request by Harriet Miers to withdraw her 2005 nomination before even a committee hearing had been scheduled, citing Miers' concerns about Senate requests during her confirmation process for access to internal Executive Branch documents resulting from her position as White House Counsel. Prior to that, President Ronald Reagan in 1987 withdrew the name of Douglas H. Ginsburg soon after the announcement of his nomination because of allegations of marijuana use.

While Senators may attempt to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee in an attempt to prevent confirmation, no nomination for Associate Justice has ever been filibustered. However, President Lyndon Johnson's nomination of sitting Associate Justice Abe Fortas to succeed Earl Warren as Chief Justice was successfully filibustered in 1968.

Until the 1980s, the approval process of Justices was frequently quick. From the Truman through Nixon administrations, Justices were typically approved within one month. From the Reagan administration through the current administration (George W. Bush), the process has often taken much longer. Some speculate this is because of the increasingly political role Justices are said to be playing (ie, ' judicial activism').

When the Senate is in recess, the President may make a temporary appointment without the Senate's advice and consent. Such a recess appointee to the Supreme Court holds office only until the end of the next Senate session (at most, less than two years). To continue to serve thereafter, and to be compensated for his or her service, the Senate must confirm the nominee. Of the two Chief Justices and six Associate Justices who have received recess appointments, only Chief Justice John Rutledge was not subsequently confirmed for a full term. No President since Dwight Eisenhower has made a recess appointment to the Supreme Court, and the practice has become highly controversial even when applied to lower federal courts.

The Constitution provides that Justices "shall hold their Offices during good Behavior" (unless appointed during a Senate recess). The term "good behaviour" is understood to mean life tenure. However, Justices may resign, retire, or be removed by impeachment and then conviction by Congressional vote (this last has never occurred). On average, a vacancy arises every two years; however, long stretches without any vacancies occur from time to time. For instance, no vacancy arose for the eleven years between Stephen Breyer's appointment in 1994 and Chief Justice William Rehnquist's death in 2005.

Other functions

Under the Judiciary Act of 1789, each Justice was required to "ride circuit", or to travel within the assigned circuit and to consider cases alongside local judges. However, this practice encountered opposition from many Justices, who complained about the difficulty of travel. Moreover, several individuals opposed it on the grounds that a Justice could not be expected to be impartial in an appeal if he had previously decided the same case while riding circuit. Circuit riding was abolished in 1891. Now, the duty of a Supreme Court Justice in this regard is generally limited to hearing emergency petitions in the relevant circuit and to some other routine tasks like addressing certain requests for extensions of time. The Justice assigned to a given circuit is known within that circuit as "the Circuit Justice" and may, but in practice almost never does, sit as a judge of that circuit. A Circuit Justice takes precedence over the Chief Judge of the circuit when a Justice decides to sit.

The Chief Justice is usually assigned to the District of Columbia Circuit, the Federal Circuit and the Fourth Circuit (which surrounds the District of Columbia); each Associate Justice is assigned to one or two judicial circuits.

After Associate Justice Alito's appointment, circuits were assigned as follows:

  • For the D.C. Circuit, John G. Roberts, Jr.
  • For the First Circuit, David H. Souter
  • For the Second Circuit, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • For the Third Circuit, David H. Souter
  • For the Fourth Circuit, John G. Roberts, Jr.
  • For the Fifth Circuit, Antonin G. Scalia
  • For the Sixth Circuit, John Paul Stevens
  • For the Seventh Circuit, John Paul Stevens
  • For the Eighth Circuit, Samuel A. Alito, Jr.
  • For the Ninth Circuit, Anthony M. Kennedy
  • For the Tenth Circuit, Stephen G. Breyer
  • For the Eleventh Circuit, Clarence Thomas
  • For the Federal Circuit, John G. Roberts, Jr.

The Circuit assignments frequently reflect, but do not always and need not, the geographic regions where the assigned Justices served as judges or Members of the Bar before joining the Supreme Court. Four of the current Justices are assigned to circuits on which they once sat as circuit judges: Chief Justice Roberts (D.C. Circuit), Justice Souter (First Circuit), Justice Stevens (Seventh Circuit), and Justice Kennedy (Ninth Circuit). Furthermore, Justices Thomas and Ginsburg are assigned to the circuits that include their home states (the Eleventh and Second Circuits, respectively).

Current membership

The current Justices of the United States Supreme Court are:

Seat # Title Name Date of birth Appt. by Conf. vote Active Service Senior Service
CJ Chief Justice John G. Roberts 1955 G. W. Bush 78-22 2005-present (none)
3 Associate Justice John Paul Stevens 1920 Ford 98-0 1975-present (none)
9 Associate Justice Antonin G. Scalia 1936 Reagan 98-0 1986-present (none)
4 Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy 1936 Reagan 97-0 1988-present (none)
1 Associate Justice David H. Souter 1939 G. H. W. Bush 90-9 1990-present (none)
10 Associate Justice Clarence Thomas 1948 G. H. W. Bush 52-48 1991-present (none)
6 Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg 1933 Clinton 97-3 1993-present (none)
2 Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer 1938 Clinton 87-9 1994-present (none)
8 Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito 1950 G. W. Bush 58-42 2006-present (none)
retired Retired Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor 1930 Reagan 99-0 1981-2006 2006-present

As of 2006, the average age is 66 years.

Retired justices

Research suggests that justices are often strategic in their decisions to leave the bench with personal, institutional, and partisan factors playing a role. The fear of mental decline and death often precludes justices from stepping down. The desire to maximize the Court's strength and legitimacy through one retirement at a time, when the Court is in recess, and during non-presidential election years suggests a concern for institutional health. Finally, if at all possible, justices seek to depart under favorable presidents and senates to ensure that a like-minded successor will be appointed.

Currently, there is only one living retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor, who announced her intent to retire in 2005 and was replaced by Samuel Alito in 2006.

Seniority and seating

During Court sessions, the Justices sit according to seniority, with the Chief Justice in the centre, and the Associate Justices on alternating sides, with the most senior Associate Justice on the Chief Justice's immediate right, and the most junior Associate Justice seated on the left farthest away from the Chief Justice. Therefore, the current court sits as follows from left to right when looking at the bench from the perspective of a lawyer arguing before the Court: Breyer, Thomas, Kennedy, Stevens (most senior Associate Justice), Roberts (Chief Justice), Scalia, Souter, Ginsburg and Alito (most junior Associate Justice).

Political leanings

Seven of the current justices of the court were appointed by Republican Presidents, while two were nominated by a Democratic President. In legal circles, it is popularly accepted that Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito compose the Court's conservative wing, while Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer compose the Court's liberal wing. Justice Kennedy, a moderate conservative, is considered to be the justice most likely to become the swing vote that determines the outcome of close cases.


U.S. Supreme Court building
U.S. Supreme Court building

The Supreme Court occupied various spaces in the United States Capitol until 1935, when it moved into its own purpose-built home at One First Street Northeast, Washington, D.C. The four-story building was designed in a classical style sympathetic to the surrounding buildings of the Capitol complex and Library of Congress by architect Cass Gilbert, and is clad in marble quarried chiefly in Vermont. The building includes space for the Courtroom, Justices' chambers, an extensive law library, various meeting spaces, and auxiliary services such as workshop, stores, cafeteria and a gymnasium. The Supreme Court building is within the ambit of the Architect of the Capitol, but maintains its own police force, separate from the Capitol Police.


Article Three of the United States Constitution outlines the jurisdiction of the federal courts of the United States:

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States; between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

The jurisdiction of the federal courts was further limited by the Eleventh Amendment, which forbade the federal courts from hearing cases "commenced or prosecuted against [a State] by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State". However, the Eleventh Amendment is not deemed to apply if a state consents to be sued (see Sovereign immunity). Moreover, the Supreme Court has ruled that Congress may abrogate the states' immunity from lawsuits in certain circumstances. In addition to constitutional constraints, the jurisdiction of the federal courts is also limited by various federal laws. For example, the federal courts may consider "Controversies ... between Citizens of different States" only if the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000; otherwise, the case may only be brought in state courts.

The Constitution specifies that the Supreme Court may exercise original jurisdiction in cases affecting ambassadors and other diplomats, and in cases in which a state is a party. In all other cases, however, the Supreme Court has only appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court considers cases based on its original jurisdiction very rarely; almost all cases are brought to the Supreme Court under the appellate jurisdiction after having been considered by lower courts. In practice, the only original jurisdiction cases heard by the Court are disputes between two or more states, or occasionally between the federal government and a state.

The power of the Supreme Court to consider appeals from state courts, rather than just federal courts, was recognized by the Judiciary Act of 1789 and upheld early in the Court's history, by its rulings in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816) and Cohens v. Virginia (1821). The Supreme Court is the only federal court that has jurisdiction over direct appeals from state court decisions, although there are a variety of devices that permit so-called "collateral review" of state-court cases.

The Supreme Court may only hear actual cases and controversies. It does not hear moot cases or issue advisory opinions. However, the Court may consider some cases, such as Roe v. Wade, that become moot during the judicial process, if it appears that the legal issue involved is likely to arise again but would not be reviewable by the Court under a strict mootness analysis. "Roe" had already had her baby when the case came to the Supreme Court, because judicial activity (trials, appeals and so on) takes much longer than human gestation. Because future abortion cases would face the same time constraints, the Court decided the case in spite of its mootness.

The Supreme Court is not required to hear every case presented to it. In cases that are heard by a three-judge United States district court (a practice that formerly was somewhat common but has been limited to very few cases by legislation in recent years), there is a right of appeal directly to the Supreme Court, although the Court may dispose of these appeals by summary order if it does not believe they are important enough for full briefing and argument. In most instances, however, the party must petition the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. By custom, certiorari is granted on the vote of four of the nine Justices. In most cases, the writ is denied; the Supreme Court normally only considers matters of national or constitutional importance. If the Court refuses to grant certiorari, it does not comment on the merits of the case; the decision of the lower court stands unchanged as if Supreme Court review had not been requested.

Court reports and citation style

Supreme Court decisions are typically cited as in the following example: " Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)." The citation consists of the names of the opposing parties; the volume number; "U.S." (signifying United States Reports, the official reporter of Supreme Court decisions); the page number on which the decision begins; and the year in which the case was decided. The names of the opposing parties are listed in the format "Petitioner v. Respondent" or "Appellant v. Appellee." The Reporter of Decisions is responsible for publication of the Court's rulings. There are two other widely-used reporters: the Supreme Court Reporter and the Lawyer's Edition, corresponding to two privately-published collections of decisions. For more information on how these reports are cited, see case citation.

Checks and balances

The Constitution does not explicitly grant the Supreme Court the power of Judicial review; nevertheless, the power of the Supreme Court to overturn laws and executive actions it deems unlawful or unconstitutional is a well-established precedent. Many of the Founding Fathers accepted the notion of judicial review; in Federalist No. 78, Alexander Hamilton writes: "A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute." The Supreme Court first established its power to declare laws unconstitutional in Marbury v. Madison (1803), consummating the system of checks and balances.

The Supreme Court cannot directly enforce its rulings; instead, it relies on respect for the Constitution and for the law for adherence to its judgments. One notable instance of nonacquiescence came in 1832, when the state of Georgia ignored the Supreme Court's decision in Worcester v. Georgia. President Andrew Jackson, who sided with the Georgia courts, is supposed to have remarked, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!" However, this quotation is likely apocryphal. State militia in the South also resisted the desegregation of public schools after the 1954 judgment Brown v. Board of Education. More recently, many feared that President Richard Nixon would refuse to comply with the Court's order in United States v. Nixon (1974) to surrender the Watergate tapes. Nixon, however, ultimately complied with the Supreme Court's ruling. The Court must rely on the willingness of the other branches of government, the lower courts, and ultimately the American people, to uphold its rulings, and therefore has a strong institutional interest in issuing well-reasoned, persuasive opinions. If a ruling is not sound it will likely be overturned by the Court later or changed by the Congress through the amendment process, as occurred most notably with Dred Scott v. Sanford, which is widely believed by historians to have contributed to the Civil War and subsequently was overturned by the 14th Amendment.

The Constitution provides that the salary of a Justice may not be diminished during his or her continuance in office. This clause was intended to prevent Congress from punishing Justices for their decisions by reducing their emoluments. Together with the provision that Justices hold office for life, this clause helps guarantee judicial independence. However, as seen above, the President's practice of appointing justices with similar real, perceived or expected ideology can be seen to compromise judicial independence. This is compounded by the fact that chance determines how many opportunities each president has to make appointments. To ameliorate this problem, some advocate a plan that would reduce the term of office from lifetime to 18 years. This is a nonpartisan reform that would allow every president to appoint 2 justices per 4-year term. As with the other historical changes in the court's makeup, they argue it would not require a constitutional amendment (because at the end of the 18-year term justices would become non-voting "senior justices" and would continue to hold office and receive a salary as required by Article III).

Quotes about arguing before the Supreme Court

Supreme Court of the United States
I had never before argued a Supreme Court case on my own. Since arguments in that Court are thirty minutes in length per side, and since most of the time consumed in argument is taken up with responses to questions of the Court, Dean and I devoted most of our preparation to three overlapping issues, ones that have consumed my attention in every later Supreme Court argument as well. The first was jurisprudential in nature. What rule of law were we urging the Court to adopt? How would it apply in any future case? What would be its impact on First Amendment legal doctrine?" Floyd Abrams, discussing Landmark Communications v. Virginia.
Supreme Court of the United States
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