The Supreme Court of the United States is considered to be the last word on legal decisions, being highly selective about which cases it chooses to consider. It only accepts cases that have been through the lower courts and appeals processes until there are no other options and no satisfactory resolution to the issue at hand. This paper will discuss various aspects of the Supreme Court, its purpose and functioning, and other characteristics.
The purpose of the Supreme Court is not to create law, but rather to interpret law and whether or not the issues being considered are consistent with the United States Constitution. The words that are written above the entrance to the Court, EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW, describe the most significant responsibility of the Supreme Court: it is the highest court in the nation for any and all disputes arising under the Constitution or the laws of the United States. It is the final arbiter of the law and it is tasked with guaranteeing that the American people have equal justice under the law. It is essentially the guardian and interpreter of the Constitution (The Court and Constitutional Interpretation, 2011.)
The Supreme Court is comprised of the Chief Justice and eight Associate Judges, a number that is determined by Congress. The President has the responsibility of nominating justices, whose confirmations are determined by the United States Senate. These appointments are lifetime tenures. In addition, there are court officers who are instrumental in helping the Court perform its duties, including clerks, librarians, marshals, a curator, and a reporter of decisions (A Brief Overview of the Supreme Court, 2011.)
The Supreme Court receives cases in one of two ways. Cases known as “original jurisdictions” are issues that arise from lawsuits between states. The vast majority of cases taken on by the Supreme Court are received on appeal from lower federal courts or state supreme courts (What Is the US Supreme Court? 2010.) However, prior to a case be accepted by the Supreme Court on appeal, the case proceeds through “certiorari,” in which case four Justices are required to agree that the Court should hear the case and issue a legal document called “a writ of certiorari”, permitting the case to proceed (What Is the US Supreme Court? 2010.) If such a writ is not issued, the lower court decision will stand.
When the Court accepts a case, each party involved submits a brief, summarizing its argument. The Court utilizes clerks to review the briefs and give them feedback about the cases involved. Once the briefs are received, the case is scheduled for oral argument in which each party is given 30 minutes to clarify their point of view. Often, the Justices question the attorneys during this phase. When the oral arguments are concluded, the Justices vote on the case, and in order to reach a decision, a majority must agree on one side. When Justices do not agree with the majority opinion, they may express their opposition by writing “dissenting opinions.”As well, Justices frequently write “concurring opinions” that clarify their reasons for joining the majority (What Is the US Supreme Court? 2010.)
The Supreme Court provides judicial discretion regarding two areas: granting extraordinary writs, such as writs of habeas corpus, prohibition, and certiorari which allow the Court to mandate action from certain entities for the benefit of the petitioner, or discretionary review authority, which permits the Court to make decisions about which cases merit their attention (Elkins, 2011.) The scope of the Court involves any laws passed within the United States and between states.