After a summer hiatus, the United States Supreme Court reconvenes, first Monday in October.
The Supreme Court of the United States (sometimes colloquially referred to by the acronym SCOTUS) is the highest judicial body in the United States and leads the judicial branch of the U.S. federal government.
The Court consists of nine Justices: the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices. The Justices are nominated by the President and confirmed with the “advice and consent” of the Senate. As federal judges, the Justices serve during “good behavior,” meaning they essentially serve for life and can be removed only by resignation, or by impeachment and subsequent conviction.
The Supreme Court is the only court established by the United States Constitution (in Article III); all other federal courts are created by Congress:
- 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. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.
The Supreme Court holds both original and appellate jurisdiction, with its appellate jurisdiction accounting for most of the Court’s caseload. The court’s original jurisdiction is narrowly focused, as defined in Article III, Section 2 (“In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the Supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction”). The court’s appellate jurisdiction encompasses “all cases” within the scope of Article III, but is subject to limitation by acts of Congress under the Exceptions Clause in Article III and by the discretion of the Court.
The Supreme Court meets in Washington, D.C., in the United States Supreme Court building. The Court’s yearly terms usually start on the first Monday in October and finish sometime during the following June or July. Each term consists of alternating two week intervals. During the first interval, the court is in session (‘sitting’) and hears cases, and, during the second interval, the court is recessed to consider and write opinions on cases it has heard.
Here are some of the major decisions of the Court since its inception:
The Taney Court (1836–1864) made a number of important rulings, such as Sheldon v. Sill, which held that while Congress may not limit the subjects the Supreme Court may hear, it may limit the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts to prevent them from hearing cases dealing with certain subjects. However, it is primarily remembered for its ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford, the case which may have helped precipitate the Civil War. In the years following the Civil War, the Chase, Waite, and Fuller Courts (1864–1910) interpreted the new Civil War amendments to the Constitution, and developed the doctrine of substantive due process (Lochner v. New York; Adair v. United States).
The Warren Court (1953–1969) made a number of alternately celebrated and controversial rulings expanding the application of the Constitution to civil liberties, leading a renaissance in substantive due process. It held that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional (Brown v. Board of Education); the Constitution protects a general right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut); public schools cannot have official prayer (Engel v. Vitale), or mandatory Bible readings (Abington School District v. Schempp); many guarantees of the Bill of Rights apply to the states (e.g., Mapp v. Ohio, Miranda v. Arizona); an equal protection clause is not contained in the Fifth Amendment (Bolling v. Sharpe); and that the Constitution grants the right of retaining a court appointed attorney for those too indigent to pay for one (Gideon v. Wainwright).
The Burger Court (1969–1986) ruled that abortion was a constitutional right (Roe v. Wade), reached muddled and controversial rulings on affirmative action (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke) and campaign finance regulation (Buckley v. Valeo), and held that the implementation of the death penalty in many states was unconstitutional (Furman v. Georgia), but that the death penalty itself was not unconstitutional (Gregg v. Georgia).
The Rehnquist Court (1986–2005) will primarily be remembered for its revival of the concept of federalism, which included restrictions on Congressional power under both the Commerce Clause (United States v. Lopez; United States v. Morrison) and the fifth section of the Fourteenth Amendment (City of Boerne v. Flores), as well as the fortification of state sovereign immunity (Seminole Tribe v. Florida; Alden v. Maine). It will also be remembered for its controversial 5 to 4 decision in Bush v. Gore in 2000. In addition, the Rehnquist court narrowed the right of labor unions to picket (Lechmere Inc. v. NLRB); altered the Roe v. Wade framework for assessing abortion regulations (Planned Parenthood v. Casey); and gave sweeping meaning to ERISA pre-emption (Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.; Egelhoff v. Egelhoff), thereby denying plaintiffs access to state courts with the consequence of limiting compensation for torts to very circumscribed remedies (Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila; CIGNA Healthcare of Texas Inc. v. Calad); and affirmed the power of Congress to extend the term of copyright (Eldred v. Ashcroft).
The Roberts Court (2005–present) began with the confirmation and swearing in of Chief Justice John Roberts on September 29, 2005, and is the currently presiding court. The Court under Chief Justice Roberts is moving full speed ahead towards the conservative end of the spectrum. Some of the major rulings so far have been in the areas of free speech (Garcetti v. Ceballos and Morse v. Frederick); the death penalty (Kansas v. Marsh); abortion (Gonzales v. Carhart); the Fourth Amendment (Hudson v. Michigan); school desegregation (Parents v. Seattle); and anti-trust legislation (Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc.). The Seattle school desegregation case especially had severe ramifications for race-based diversity intiatives used by school districts in trying to rectify past discrimination in public schools.(See my post https://kathmanduk2.wordpress.com/2007/07/09/segregation-now-segregation-tomorrow-segregation-forever/ )Below is a table of current active Supreme Court Justices, in order of seniority:
As of 2006, the average age of the U.S. Supreme Court justices is 66 years.
When the present U.S. Supreme Court reconvenes its new term Monday, it will hear the following cases with a docket that includes:
-Cases on reimbursement for private education, election law and the rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
-Appeals on the constitutionality of requiring voters to show a photo ID before they may vote (Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 07-21, and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita, 07-25).
-To decide the constitutionality of execution by lethal drugs when the chemical protocol poses a risk of pain and suffering (Baze v. Rees, 07-5439)
The following are court cases granted review including descriptions of the issues involved, links to the Court’s electronic docket and, where available, PDFs of the petitions, briefs in opposition and replies:
• Morgan Stanley Capital Group v. Public Utility Dist.1 (06-1457) and Calpine Energy Services v. Public Utility Dist.1 (06-1462) (federal regulators’ power to take an energy crisis into account in reviewing electric power sale contracts): docket, docket, petition, petition, brief in opposition, reply, reply.
• United States v. Rodriquez (06-1646) (crimes that qualify for enhanced sentence under armed career criminal law; specific issue involves state drug crime conviction): docket, petition, brief in opposition, reply.
• Crawford v. Marion City Election Board (07-21) and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita (07-25) (constitutionality of requiring voters to show a photo ID before they may vote): docket, docket, petition, petition, brief in opposition, supplemental brief in opposition, reply, reply.
• Baze v. Rees (07-5439) (constitutionality of execution by lethal drugs when the chemical protocol poses a risk of pain and suffering): docket, petition, supplemental brief to the petition, brief in opposition, reply.