Supreme Court Justices
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the country, and it leads the federal judiciary. It yields immense power, such as the ability to declare a congressional law unconstitutional. The Supreme Court justices are chosen by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate.
Article Two of the Constitution gives the President of the United States the power to appoint justices to the Supreme Court.
Usually, the president attempts to choose a Justice that is ideologically similar to the president. However, occasionally, a justice will be more conservative or liberal than the president had anticipated.
There are no qualifications to serve as a justice, and thus the president can technically nominate anyone to serve on the Supreme Court. However, the nomination of the president must receive the confirmation of the Senate.
Role of the Senate
The Senate either confirms or rejects a president’s nomination for the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee conducts a number of hearings regarding the nomination, and questions the nominees about their qualifications and background.
After the Committee conducts these hearings, the Committee then votes on if the nomination should proceed to the Senate with a positive, negative, or neutral report. The Senate then votes to either confirm the nomination or reject the nomination. A majority of confirmation from the Senate means that the nominee will serve on the Supreme Court.
It is rare that the Senate rejects a nomination. In fact, that has only occurred twelve times in history. Occasionally, the president may withdraw a nomination before it has been confirmed or rejected by the Senate. This occurs usually when the president feels that the nominee is going to be rejected by the Senate.
If the Senate is in recess, the President can make a temporary appointment to the Supreme Court office without the Senate’s consent. However, the appointment only lasts until the Senate returns. The Senate must then still vote to either confirm or reject the nomination, even though the nominee has already served on the Court.
Justices on the Supreme Court
When a Supreme Court Justice is selected to serve on the Supreme Court, he or she serves a life tenure on the court. This means that the justice can sit on the bench as long as he or she likes, assuming good behavior. The only way that a Supreme Court Justice is removed from the court is if she or he dies, retires, resigns, or is impeached.
Currently, the Supreme Court meets in Washington, D.C. in the United States Supreme Court building. Prior to meeting in the United States Supreme Court building, the Court met in Philadelphia in Philadelphia’s City Hall.
The Supreme Court primarily functions as an appellate court, although there are a few cases for which the Supreme Court does have original jurisdiction. An appellate court means that the Supreme Court frequently sees cases that have been appealed from lower courts.
Size of the Supreme Court
The size of the Supreme Court has changed throughout history. The Constitution never specified an amount of justices, but rather delegated the task to Congress to “fix” the number of judges that would sit on the court.
- The Judiciary Act of 1789 declared that there would be six justices on the Court.
- When the country grew, Congress changed this number to seven justices in 1807.
- There were nine justices in 1847.
- There were ten Justices in 1863.
- The Judicial Circuits Act of 1866 reduced the number back down to seven.
- The Judiciary Act of 1869 set the number at nine once again.
Despite Franklin D. Roosevelt’s attempts to “pack the court” during his presidency (increase the number of justices that sat in the Court, so he would have enough support for his proposals), the number has stayed stable at nine Supreme Court Justices.