Supreme Court of the United States

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Not to be confused with the grumpy old Scotsman of the same name.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) consists of nine lifetime appointed people who sit in judgment on whether or not laws (local, state, or federal) are in compliance with the US Constitution and have the final say on how the federal laws are to be interpreted. This power of the courts is called judicial review, and the precedent for its use by the SCOTUS was established in the 1802 case Marbury v. Madison. The Supreme Court also hears lawsuits between states, as with the recent suit against Colorado's legalization of marijuana.[1]

The members, or "associate justices," are appointed by the President, and take office upon confirmation by the Senate. The last time the Senate voted not to confirm an appointment to the Supreme Court was in 1987 with Robert Bork. Since justices are appointed for life, appointments are sometimes the most lasting legacy of a president.

One member appointed the same way as the other justices, serves as "chief justice," who, although still only having one vote on cases, has the interesting and sometimes important power to assign the writing of majority decisions (when they are in the majority) to one of the associates. This can be used to influence the exact nature of a decision — the chief justice might vote with a four-justice minority (or more importantly, a five-justice majority) in order to assign the decision writing to a justice with a weaker stand than the other members of the majority.

In practice, the most powerful member of the Court is rarely the chief justice but the one or two "moderate" members who are very often the swing votes on contentious issues. Anthony Kennedy is purported to be one such justice on the current Court (see below).

Current bench[edit]

Republican/conservative half[edit]

Due to the Roberts Court's conservative majority, its decisions have been some of the most conservative in decades.[2] Members of this five-man group include:

Democratic/liberal half[edit]

Mostly reliable liberal Justices who were appointed by the last two Democratic Presidents since 1980 (Clinton and Obama). During Obama's first two years with a Democratic Congress, there were calls for the two remaining Clinton appointees to retire in 2010, in order for Obama to appoint younger replacements. Sadly, this did not happen, thereby risking two or even three appointments by Donald Trump.

The Middle[edit]

  • Anthony Kennedy: Nominated by Ronald Reagan, octogenarian Kennedy is most definitely not one of "those" Kennedys. Said to be the court's swing vote, being the member who sits ideologically between the four left-wing members and the right-wing "Four Horsemen." Kennedy is a fairly reliable vote for conservative economic ideology,[7] but he has a well-noted libertarian streak and emphasis on "human dignity" that largely explains his votes with liberals on social issues like gay marriage. Incidentally, should he vote with the liberals (with no other partisan justices defecting), he chooses who will write the majority opinion, as he is senior to all those in the liberal wing.[note 5]

Other supreme courts[edit]

Of the US states, 48 have a single court of last resort (called the Court of Appeals in Maryland and New York, the Supreme Judicial Court in Maine and Massachusetts, and the Supreme Court elsewhere). Oklahoma and Texas each have two courts of last resort, a Supreme Court for civil matters and a Court of Criminal Appeals for criminal matters. A state supreme court's interpretation of its state constitution and its state statutory and common law is final and is binding on both lower state courts and all federal courts, including (at least in theory) the Supreme Court of the United States. Federal courts may still adjudicate whether a state's constitution and laws conflict with the U.S. Constitution or federal law.

Also, many other countries have similar ultimate judicial arbiters with one name or another. They tend to be comparatively functional and non-partisan.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. He must not be that bad if he occasionally makes decisions that we agree with.
  2. Thomas referred a procedural motion in such a case to the full court for consideration (which the court denied without recorded dissent), rather than Thomas just denying or granting the motion on his own authority. The case did not question Obama’s U.S. citizenship, but rather asserted that his previous secondary British (or Kenyan) dual citizenship disqualified him from being president. At no point did Thomas express agreement with the lawsuit’s assertions, although Thomas often expresses extreme positions with which no other justice agrees.
  3. Some people just can't tell the difference between treating women like actual human beings and hurting the feelings of sexist pricks.
  4. It goes to show that the less material criticism there is to work with, the more ridiculous the mudslinging will be.
  5. Sometimes Chief Justice Roberts rules with the liberal wing, as seen in King v. Burwell (2015), meaning he writes (or chooses who writes) the ruling. In any case, the opinion still has to be approved by a majority of justices to become the opinion of the court.