(Nation World News Spanish) — With recent rulings on abortion, gun control, religious freedom, and the environment, the Supreme Court of the United States once again reaffirmed its central role in the country.
Nine judges are unelected, serve for life, and until recently all were white men. But his works have helped define the American way of life for more than two centuries.
Here are several common questions about the court, its composition and its power:
What does the Supreme Court do?
In short, the court decides whether laws and government functions are constitutional and describes the breadth and boundaries of government.
When a case reaches the Supreme Court, usually through a multi-year process, this is important because the precedent that establishes the majority’s opinion is the standard by which future laws are measured. This is due to the principle of “decision made“, Latin for “support of a decision”, where a current court must be bound by previous decisions.
Are Supreme Court’s decisions final?
Yes, in the sense that they cannot be repealed by any other body.
But no, in the sense that the court can overturn or change its own precedent over time, as it did with rulings allowing racial segregation or last month’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion.
Can Congress reverse decisions?
Not directly, but Congress can pass laws that respond to decisions.
For example, the court ruled in 2007 that Lily Ledbetter had not filed a complaint of equal pay discrimination within the permitted time period (since she did not discover the discrepancy until years later). President Barack Obama signed a law in 2009 that removed those previous restrictions.
What about reforming the constitution?
The Supreme Court interprets the constitution, so amending the document can change how the court governs. But amending the Constitution is a difficult political task, which in principle requires massive public support, which at the moment does not exist for any party.
Are Supreme Court judges elected?
No, they are appointed by the President and then sent to the Senate for confirmation.
How many judges are there and who has appointed them?
nine. Everyone has one vote.
Supreme Court President John Roberts (George W. Bush, 2005).
Juez Clarence Thomas (George HW Bush, 1991).
Judge Samuel Alito (GWB, 2006).
Justice Sonia Sotomayor (Barack Obama, 2009).
Justice Elena Kagan (Obama, 2010).
Justice Neil Gorsuch (Donald Trump, 2017).
Juez Brett Kavanaugh (Trump, 2018).
Justicia Amy Connie Barrett (Trump, 2020).
Juez Ketanji Brown Jackson (Joe Biden, 2022).
Why do some presidents get to appoint more than others?
Luck and politics. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama each served eight years and were each confirmed by two judges.
Trump served one term and appointed three: one because Obama’s final candidate was blocked by Republicans in 2016, another because of retirement, and another, just before the 2020 presidential election, following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader. because of. Ginsburg.
Are there any requirements to become a judge?
No. It is now common for nominees to have a strong legal background (Ivy League law school, clerk experience for past judges, or federal appeals court experience), but none of these are required.
Kagan was a Harvard law professor and attorney general (a top Justice Department attorney), but she was never a judge. The late Chief Justice Earl Warren was the governor of California.
Are Supreme Court judges appointed for life?
Yes, like other federal court judges, and they can serve until death or retirement. This means that, in principle, they are untouched by the whims of political branches. But that doesn’t make judges popular: Current polls show that less than a third of Americans trust the court.
Can Supreme Court judges be removed?
Yes, through an impeachment trial, the same process that was used to impeach the President of the United States. The House will vote for impeachment, and the Senate will have a trial and vote to impeach the judge. However, this never happened for a Supreme Court justice.
What is “court packaging”?
The Constitution does not specify how many judges a court should have, but the number has been set at nine since the mid-19th century and has since been codified into law. In theory, the President could nominate and the Senate could confirm more justices to steer the court in the desired direction.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suggested this in the 1930s after the court overruled many of his “New Deal” policies. Recently faced with a court that has six conservatives and three liberals, Democratic politicians have suggested adding several more judges to keep the balance of power.
How does the court work?
The Supreme Court first met as the Supreme Court in the judicial branch of government in 1790. The judges are headed by the Chief Justice of the United States (this is the official title). The court has occupied its current building in Washington since 1935. Before that, it had borrowed space in the Senate chambers in the US Capitol.
Traditionally, each term begins on the first Monday in October, and the final opinion is usually issued in late June. Judges divide their time between “sessions”, where they hear cases and issue decisions, and “vacations”, where they meet in private to write their decisions and consider other matters before the court. .
Judges are seated in the court on the basis of seniority, the Chief Justice in the middle and the young judges on the outside. Before public arguments and private conferences, where decisions are discussed, the nine members shake hands as a sign of harmony of purpose.
As the barge rings and the judges sit down, the Master of Ceremony shouts for the traditional welcome, which reads: “OZ! Hey! Hey! All the persons whose cases are before the Honorable Supreme Court of the United States of America must come forward.” And be warned, because the court is already sitting. God protect America and this honorable court.
Since most cases involve appellate review of other court decisions, there is no jury or witnesses, only lawyers on both sides go to court. Arguments typically last about an hour, with lawyers on both sides often interrupted by sharp questions from judges looking at their prepared oral briefs. In recent years, the court has given each judge five minutes to ask questions in the following order: from the presiding judge to the youngest judge.
This question-and-answer replication requires lawyers to think concisely and logically on the fly. And the tone of the questions often reflects the judge’s thinking, the barometer of his decision-making.
After arguments, conferences are held, where judges discuss cases and vote. Nine members are alone in these closed-door sessions. Clerks and employees are not allowed. Scripts are not preserved.
Judges spend most of their time reviewing cases and writing opinions. And they have to decide which cases they will hear in open court. Asked who was a jurist most of the time, just before her retirement in 2006, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stated bluntly: “We read. We read an average of 1,500 pages a day. Reading. Sometimes We write. Justice Antonin Scalia said: “We try to take a little time to think.”
Cameras are not allowed and, until the Covid-19 pandemic, live audio for oral arguments was also unavailable, meaning the actions of nine men and women that could affect every aspect of American life are taking place in the shadows. .
Nation World News’s Bill Mears contributed to this report.