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20 April 2014
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Reference - Federal government
Overview
The third branch of government in America is the Supreme Court.

Article 3 Section 1 of the American Constitution begins:

The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.

Roles
The Supreme Court is the ultimate court of appeal when judgements in the lower courts are challenged. It is also the sole judge in relation to all disagreements between state and federal government. This is intended to guarantee that federalism works - neither state nor national government can overrule the other. The Supreme Court will decide.

Judicial Review
This refers to the power of the Supreme Court to declare that acts of Congress, the State governments and the Executive may be unconstitutional and therefore unlawful. In this role, the Supreme Court has taken on the responsibility of interpreting the current meaning of disputed sections of the Constitution, a document that was written more than two hundred years ago. As a result, the Court has a great deal of power in areas of national disagreement and dispute. This means it has a clear political role in deciding on the rights of Americans in such disputed areas as, for example, freedom of speech, abortion, gun control, capital punishment and the rights of racial minorities.

At another level, the Supreme Court deals with issues, concerning federal government, which are referred to it from the state supreme courts. As the Constitution gives no automatic right to have a case heard in the Supreme Court, the Court itself decides which cases to hear. The Supreme Court actually rejects about 96% of the cases presented for its judgement. Only those cases that it considers to be clearly of major constitutional significance are heard by its nine members.

Membership
The Supreme Court consists of a panel of nine judges, one chief justice and eight associate justices. All are nominated and appointed by the president but require to be confirmed in their position by a simple majority vote of the Senate.

Usually, the president only puts forward those candidates he is sure will be approved. The Senate has rejected only three nominations in the past 65 years. But, if his party does not control the Senate, the president can have difficulties influencing future decisions of the Supreme Court. Two of Republican President Richard Nixon's nominations were rejected as too conservative by a Senate with a majority of Democrats.

The present chief justice, John G Robert Jnr, was appointed by President George W Bush in September 2005, following the death of William Rehnquist, who had been appointed to the post by President Reagan in 1986. The current associate justices were appointed by presidents Clinton, Bush, Reagan and Ford.

Judges hold their offices until their death or voluntary retirement. This security is supposed to ensure their independence from the other branches of government. If they maintain ‘good behaviour' they cannot be sacked or removed from office. If they fail to do so, a provision for their impeachment by Congress exists, but has never been used.


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