The Supreme Court and You

Why is the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) important in your life? Take a look at the range of important cases it has decided or given opinions on in its 200-year history. From abortion rights to witnesses in a trial to vital business issues, so many subjects that impact the nation and individuals every day come before the Court. Parties seeking relief in our nation's highest court range from individuals to state governments.

The US Constitution, Article III, established the Court, heading the judicial branch of government, along with the legislative and executive branches. Main courts in our court system are the Supreme Court, US Circuit Courts of Appeal, and US District Courts. One of the Court's main jobs is to interpret the US Constitution.

Supreme Court Cases Set Apart

Parties file a petition for a writ of certiorari, asking the Court to hear the case. In most instances, the Court has discretion and decides which cases it will review in a given term. The number of cases submitted to the Supreme Court is around 10,000. However, only 80-90 receive the Court's full attention - from listening to oral arguments from lawyers to formal written opinions.  

The Court consists of nine justices, including Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice is the head of the federal government's judicial branch, and has added duties leading the Court. These range from casting the first vote when deciding a case to serving as judge in presidential impeachment cases. If the Chief Justice votes with the majority in a case, he has the choice of whether to write opinion or assign it to an Associate Justice.

In addition to the nine justices, the Solicitor General (SG) represents the government in cases. As the "government's lawyer," the SG is involved in about two-thirds of the cases each term.

See these articles about the Court's recent cases and the judicial system:

SCOTUS in Action

The Court's operations in its annual session, running October to October, include hearing "oral argument" in cases, reviewing other cases, meetings and other court business. Generally oral arguments are heard until April or May each term. Decisions are made in May and June. The rest of the session is reserved for writing, meetings and other duties of the justices. 

There are different types of review for Supreme Court cases. The Court disposes of most cases on the merits, in a summary manner without legal briefs or giving oral argument in court. The justices review the facts and the law applied in the case. Summary reversals are more common than summary agreements. Included here are per curiam decisions, issued in the name of the Court , and may include brief discussion on facts or issues.

Formal briefs are filed and oral arguments are presented in the rest of the court's cases after cert is granted. An anxious public awaits the Court's decisions, and answers to the most important issues affecting both personal lives and business pursuits.

SCOTUS Appointments

The President nominates SCOTUS justices, and once approved by Senate hearings, they are appointed for life. Given the Court's power and authority, a nomination is a major political event and opportunity. Often, justices sit on the Court for decades. Most often, there's a long wait between vacancies, and a President may not get the chance make a nomination at all. 

Keep an eye on the Court, it makes a difference in your life. Keep up on these SCOTUS topics:

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What is the timeline for a case heard by the Supreme Court? Years?
  • Is Supreme Court review possible in my civil rights case?
  • Can an organization such as the ACLU provide representation for me if I want to seek review by the Supreme Court?
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