The Supreme Court consists of nine justices appointed by the president and approved by Congress. They are the top court in the United States, and judges serve for life or until they decide to step down.
Eligibility for Admission to the Supreme Court Bar
Any lawyer in good standing with at least three years of experience in any state can argue cases before the Supreme Court. Still, letters from two other lawyers already approved to appear before the court must accompany their application. Even then, very few will get to present a case to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court decides cases by majority vote but often issues multiple opinions that explain the reasoning behind the decision. A justice writes the primary decision, but other justices who agree or disagree with the court’s ruling can write their own opinions. Different governmental entities carefully read these opinions and help to shape future American law.
The Supreme Court publishes its decisions, which you can read. A Reporter of Decisions releases the decisions after writing a syllabus reporting the court’s ruling. In some cases, the justice writing the primary opinion will summarize it verbally from their seat in the Supreme Court Building. Other times, the justice writing the majority opinion is unknown, and there is no oral summation. These opinions are called per curiam opinions.
The Supreme Court can only rule on specific cases, including federal laws, treaties, the Constitution and state disputes. The process begins with someone filing a petition for certiorari for the court to hear their case. Generally, four justices must agree before the court will listen to the case. About 7,500 cases are filed with the Supreme Court annually, but they choose to hear only about 80 of them during their term, which lasts from the first Monday in October to late June or early July.
Supreme Court Established in 1789
The Judiciary Act of 1789, passed by the first United States Congress, established the Supreme Court. The same law established the district and circuit courts. President George Washington signed the law on September 24, 1789. The number of justices changed seven times before settling at nine in 1869.
The Supreme Court is the top court in the United States. There is no place to appeal its decisions. Yet, its scope is limited, and the justices get to select the cases they will hear.