History, Jurisdiction & Current Justices
The Supreme Court's annual term begins in October. Five justices constitute a quorum to hear a case, and decision is rendered by majority vote. In the event of a tie, the previous judgment is affirmed. Under the Judiciary Law, cases are brought to the court by appeal or by writ of certiorari. Nine judges sit on the Court: the chief justice of the United States and eight associate justices. The president of the United States appoints them to the Court for life terms, but the U.S. Senate must approve each appointment with a majority vote. The Supreme Court wields complete authority over the federal courts, but it has only limited power over state courts. The Court has the final word on cases heard by federal courts, and it writes procedures that these courts must follow.The Supreme Court's interpretations of federal law and the Constitution also apply to the state courts, but the Court cannot interpret state law or issues arising under state constitutions, and it does not supervise state court operations. The Supreme Court's most important responsibility is to decide cases that raise questions of constitutional interpretation. This power, known as judicial review, enables the Court to invalidate both federal and state laws when they conflict with its interpretation of the Constitution. History
The history of the Supreme Court reflects the development of the U.S. economy, the alteration of political views, and the evolution of the Federal structure. The Supreme Court heard few cases in its early years, and played a rather insignificant role in the political system. The court began in 1789 with 6 members and was increased to 7 in 1807, to 9 in 1837, and to 10 in 1863. Since 1869, the court has been comprised of 9 members. During the 1790s, three chief justices served only brief terms, and several nominees turned down presidential appointments. The status of the Supreme Court was somewhat uncertain until the tenure (1801–35) of John Marshall, the “Great Chief Justice.” Marshall, a strong Federalist, Marbury vs. Madison established the principle of judicial review, i.e., the right of all courts to refuse the enforcement of unconstitutional enactments of Congress. Marshall served on the Court for 34 years, and transformed the Court into a potent force of the national government. Under Marshall's successor, Roger B. Taney, the court recognized to some extent the claims of state regulatory authority through police power. However, in the Dred Scott case, Taney made what many persons considered an unwarranted limitation of Federal authority in forbidding Congress to prohibit slavery in the territories. The end of the Civil War to 1937 encompasses the second great period in the history of the court. After the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, there were many cases alleging that state legislation took liberty or property without due process of law, or denied equal protection of the laws. In the late 1900's, the flood of litigation arising from a wide variety of causes was delaying the disposition of cases up to three years. Therefore,in 1891, Congress created the circuit courts of appeals to give a final hearing to most appeals. In the early 20th cent., the court appeared to be highly conservative in its views. The court followed a rigid adherence to stare decisis and little disposition to restrain the states from restricting civil liberties. This was apparent in the Plessy v. Ferguson case in1896, which upheld the right of states to enforce segregationist Jim Crow legislation in many Southern states. A third great period of constitutional history began after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to office and Congress passed landmark economic legislation. By five-to-four votes the National Labor Relations Act and the Social Security Act were upheld.
Article III gives the Supreme Court two types of jurisdiction. The...