How the Courts Check Power
SEPARAT ION OF POWERS
The Judicial Branch Congress established the federal court system in the Judiciary Act of 1789. Article III of the Constitution says little more than that the nation’s judicial power should be in the hands of a Supreme Court and any such lower courts Congress may create. Details of the courts’ organization and work are left largely to Congress. The highest court in the nation is the United States Supreme Court. Its basic duty is to determine whether federal, state and local governments are acting according to the Constitution. The Supreme Court does its job by deciding specific legal cases on the basis of established legal rules. Much of its work involves rules that are laid down in the Constitution. These rules are stated in general terms, and the Supreme Court must determine their meaning and apply them to the cases it decides. ❝ What in the world is a moderate interpretation of a constitutional text? Halfway between what it says and what we’d like it to say?
• Check Congress by declaring a law unconstitutional
Check the president by declaring his or his subordinates’ actions to be unconstitutional or not authorized by law
normally reviewed first by the courts of appeals, but in a few cases, the Supreme Court reviews the decisions of federal district courts. Cases are decided by majority vote. If a tie occurs, the lower court decision is left standing. The parties have no further appeal. Membership in the Supreme Court The Supreme Court has nine members — a chief justice and eight associate justices. The number is set by the U.S. Congress and has changed through the years. The Constitution sets no qualifications for justices but says they shall be appointed by the president, with the advice and consent of the Senate. All justices have legal experience, and most have been prominent judges, lawyers, law professors or government officials. Once appointed, justices may remain in office for life. A justice can only be removed through impeachment for corruption or other abuses of office, but that has never occurred. There are many traditions observed by the justices. For example, they wear black robes when they are in court, and white quill pens are still placed on counsel tables each day that the court is in session. The annual term of the court begins the first Monday in October and usually ends in June. The justices also have a special way of greeting each other called a “conference handshake.” When they first come into the court, each justice shakes hands with each of the other eight members. Justices are given seats in the court according to how long they have served. The chief justice sits in the center chair. The senior associate justice sits to his right, the second senior associate to his left and so on according to seniority. ✦
JUDGE ANTONIN SCAL IA , SUPREME COURT JUST I CE ( 1986 - 2016 )
One of the most important powers the Supreme Court has is the ability to declare laws unconstitutional, or invalid. This is known as the power of judicial review and it allows the Supreme Court to check the power of the other two branches of the federal government as well as that of the states’ governments. A Supreme Court decision has great importance. Once it decides a constitutional question, all other courts throughout the United States are required to follow the decision in similar cases. In this way, the Supreme Court helps guarantee equal legal justice to all Americans. Authority of the Supreme Court The Constitution gives the Supreme Court two types of authority: 1) original jurisdiction and 2) appellate jurisdiction. The court has original jurisdiction in cases affecting ambassadors or other representatives of foreign countries and in cases in which a state is one of the parties. Most of the work of the Supreme Court comes from its appellate jurisdiction , which is its authority to confirm or reverse lower court decisions. Supreme Court cases come from the federal courts of appeals and the highest state courts. Federal district court decisions are
FREEDOM FACT Congress established the federal court system in the Judiciary Act of 1789 . Article III of the Constitution says that the nation’s judicial power should be in the hands of a Supreme
Court and any such lower courts Congress may create. Details of the courts’ organization and work are left largely to Congress.
16 | THREE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT
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