US Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the land. Questions about the US Supreme Court and the highest US State courts of appeal, as well as questions of relevant case law, Court opinions, and historical issues related to this venue are among the questions asked in our US Supreme Court category.

17,749 Questions
US Constitution
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US Supreme Court

What is the term of office for US Supreme Court justices?

Supreme Court justices serve "during good behavior," which means "for life" or until they choose to resign or retire, as long as they don't commit an impeachable offense (bad behavior).

The nine Supreme Court justices hold their offices "during good behavior" according to Article III, Section 1, of the US Constitution. This means that they may hold office for life; however they may be involuntarily removed from office by impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors, the same as the President.

Article III, Section 1

"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."

Only one US Supreme Court Justice has been impeached, but was acquitted of all charges, and that was Samuel Chase (1741 - 1811) for allegedly letting his politics affect the quality of his decisions. life.

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US Supreme Court

How many justices are on the US Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has nine justices: one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices.

The Judiciary Act of 1789 provided for a 6-member Court, with a Chief Justice and 5 Associate Justices. Congress adjusted the size of the Court a number of times through the during the 19th-century.

  1. Judiciary Act of 1789: Court size 6
  2. Judiciary Act of 1801: Court size, 5
  3. Repeal Act of 1802: Court size, 6
  4. Seventh Circuit Act of 1807: Court size, 7
  5. Judiciary Act of 1837: Court size, 9
  6. Tenth Circuit Act of 1863: Court size, 10
  7. Judicial Circuit Act of 1866: Court size, 7
  8. Habeas Corpus Act of 1867: Court size, 8
  9. Judiciary Act of 1869: Court size, 9

After the election of President Ulysses S. Grant, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1869, which set the Court's membership to nine. This number has remained the same ever since.

In 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted unsuccessfully to expand the membership of the court to gain support on the Court for his New Deal programs. He proposed adding one justice to the Supreme Court for every member over 70.5 years of age, with the potential of adding as many as six additional justices, for a total of 15. Congress refused to pass Roosevelt's legislation; however, the President had an opportunity to nominate eight justices* to vacancies that occurred during his terms of office, which created a court more receptive to his ideas.

* Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed more Supreme Court Justices, at 8, than any other President, with the exception of George Washington, who appointed a total of 10.

US Constitution
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US Supreme Court

Who is the current Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court?

Since the Supreme Court was established in 1789, 17 people have served as chief justice, beginning with John Jay (1789–1795). The current chief justice is John Roberts (since 2005).

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Court Procedure
US Supreme Court

Who are the nine justices of the US Supreme Court?

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African-American History
US Supreme Court

What was Dred Scott v Sanford about?

Quick Summary

  • Dred Scott and his family (except for his younger daughter, Lizzie) had lived for a significant time in "free" territory, which should have automatically guaranteed their right to emancipation under the "once free, always free" doctrine. Unfortunately, Scott didn't attempt to exercise this option until he and his family were living in Missouri, a slave-holding state.
  • Scott attempted to purchase his family's freedom for $300, but Irene Emerson refused the offer, so Scott sued for their freedom in court, a strategy that had worked for certain other former slaves. The first case against Irene Emerson (Scott v. Emerson, (1847) was dismissed for lack of evidence; by the time the second case was tried (Scott v. Sanford, (1857), Emerson's brother, John Sanford had assumed responsibility for his sister's legal affairs (which is why his name is on the case instead of hers).
  • The case was eventually appealed to the US Supreme Court which, in a 7-2 ruling, held the following:
    • African-Americans could never be citizens of the United States or the individual states.
    • African-Americans were chattel (property) according to the Constitution, and their owners were protected from losing their property under the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause and Due Process Clause, which invalidated the "once free, always free" tradition.
    • Because African-Americans were considered property, and were not legal citizens, they had no right to sue for their freedom.
    • The Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional because Congress had overstepped its authority in attempting to regulate states' rights.
    • Citizens' groups were prohibited from establishing anti-slavery territories.


The most famous case before the US Supreme Court for the 1856-57 Term was that of Dred Scott v. Sanford, (1857), the landmark ruling in which a slave, Dred Scott, attempted to sue for his and his family's freedom from the man who claimed ownership over them. Scott was only one of several hundred slaves who sued for freedom under a Missouri law that permitted "any person held in slavery to petition the general court" for his or her freedom. Many cases arose from the person having lived in a state territory where slavery was outlawed, which resulted in emancipation of that person under the state or territory's laws. Common law practice in this era followed the dictum "once free, always free," meaning once a former slave had gained his or her freedom, he or she could not (or was not supposed to) be subjugated to forced indenture in the future.

Dred Scott had been enslaved to a man named Peter Blow, who moved his family and six slaves from Alabama to Missouri in 1830, where he opened a boarding house, the Jefferson Hotel. Sometime after 1830, but before Blow's death in June of 1832 (the Missouri Historical Society found no record of the sale), he sold Scott to John Emerson, a US Army medical doctor stationed in St. Louis, Missouri. Emerson was a known complainer who was not well tolerated by the commanding officers, and endured frequent transfers among various military posts. Scott moved with Emerson.

On November 19, 1833, the two relocated to Fort Armstrong, in Rock Island, Illinois, a "free state" where slavery had been outlawed since the land was part of the federal government's Wisconsin Territories. The Wisconsin Territories were regulated by the Northwest Ordinance, passed by Congress in 1787, which abolished slavery and required any states split from the territory to abide by this term as a condition of statehood. Dred Scott's presence in Illinois was supposed to guarantee automatically his permanent status as a freeman, even if he relocated to a slave-holding state, under the common law doctrine of the time, "once free, always free." Scott continued in the service of Dr. Emerson; however, it is not known if this was Scott's choice, or simply because he lacked awareness of his options. The two remained at Fort Armstrong for nearly three years

In 1836, Dred Scott accompanied Dr. Emerson to Fort Snelling, in what was then known as the "Upper Louisiana Territory." In 1820, the United States passed the Missouri Compromise, legislation that attempted to balance the conflicting interests of the North and South by allowing slavery to continue in the Southern states, but prohibiting its expansion into the Western and Northwestern Territories. The dividing line was along the 36th parallel (36º30'), which passed through Missouri. As a condition of the "compromise," the entire state of Missouri was permitted to legalize slavery. Fort Snelling was North of the 36th parallel, but, although technically within the state of Missouri, was (and still is) considered an "unorganized territory" on designated free soil that prohibited slavery.

While at Fort Snelling, Dr. Emerson purchased a female slave, Harriet, from a Major Taliaferro. Emerson "permitted" Dred Scott and Harriet to marry in late 1836 or 1837. In October 1837, Emerson was given a brief assignment in St. Louis. Because the weather had already turned cold, parts of the upper Mississippi river were frozen, preventing travel by steamboat. Emerson made the trip alone by canoe, leaving Dred and Harriet in the employ of someone else until he could send for them. Almost immediately, the Army transferred Emerson from St. Louis to Fort Jessup, in Louisianna. While in Louisiana, the doctor met Eliza Irene Sanford (known as Irene), whom he married in February 1838. In April of that year, Emerson sent for Dred and Harriet, who voluntarily traveled hundreds of miles to join the Emersons in a slave state. The four returned to Fort Snelling in October 1838. Enroute, Harriet gave birth to a daughter, Eliza, while on the Steamship Gipsey, on the Mississippi River, north of the 36th parallel and the Missouri state line. The assignment at Fort Snelling lasted until 1840.

In May of 1840, the Army sent Emerson to Florida on a medical mission to care for soldiers fighting in the Seminole War. Concerned for his wife's welfare, Emerson sent Irene to live on her father's plantation, called California, in north St. Louis County and turned guardianship of Dred and Harriet over to him. Alexander Sanford owned four slaves and had no need for Dred's and Harriets' services, and hired them out to locals in Emerson's absence.

John Emerson was honorably discharged from the military in 1842, and returned to St. Louis to start a private medical practice. He was unable to establish a successful business in the city, so he relocated permanently to Davenport, Iowa. On December 29, 1843, Dr. Emerson died of complications from tertiary syphilis, which was untreatable in the era before penicillin. It is unknown whether Dred and Harriet lived with the Emerson family in Iowa or remained behind in St. Louis. Dr. Emerson's Iowa estate (the documentation for which is missing or destroyed) apparently listed an unspecified number of slaves in its inventory, but the St. Louis estate did not.

Irene returned to Missouri, where she and a baby daughter took up residence on her father's plantation. Dred Scott was hired out to Captain Henry Bainbridge, Irene's brother-in-law, then to Samuel Russell, owner of a wholesale grocery store in St. Louis; Harriet and Eliza's disposition during this period is unknown. Harriet gave birth to a second daughter, Lizzie, in 1845.

In 1846, Dred Scott attempted to buy freedom for his wife and family from Irene for $300. The offer was refused, so Scott and Harriet attempted to sue for their emancipation in the St. Louis Circuit Court. [NB: A January 10, 1886, posthumous article about Dred Scott, published in the St. Louis Daily Globe Democrat, claims the Scotts were approached by two attorneys, Burd and Risk, in 1838, and urged to sue Dr. Emerson for their freedom on the grounds that Dred had lived in a free state and territory, and was therefore permitted to sue under Missouri state statute. The article claims Scott lost and was returned to Dr. Emerson. The Missouri Historical Society makes no mention of the attorneys or this earlier case, nor has other supporting documentation been found.]

In the 1847 case Scott v. Emerson, (1847), against Dr. Emerson's widow, Scott claimed Mrs. Emerson was guilty of battery and that she imprisoned him and his family illegally, because they had gained their freedom while living in slave-free areas. Dred and Harriet's first attorney, Francis B. Murdoch, posted the required security on the Scott's behalf, but moved to California before the trail began. At this point, the children of Peter Blow, Scott's owner prior to Dr. Emerson, became involved in the freedom suits, providing both financial and legal assistance.

Samuel Mansfield Bay, a former Missouri legislator and State Attorney General, became the Scott's counsel of record in June 1847. While the judge, Alexander Hamilton, was sympathetic toward emancipation issues, Bay was unable to prove that Mrs. Emerson was holding him as a slave. Taylor Blow, son of Peter Blow, testified that his father had sold Dred Scott to Dr. Emerson. Catherine Scott, wife of a Fort Snelling military officer, also testified that she had hired Harriet while Emerson was stationed in Fort Jessup, Louisiana. Unfortunately, the testimony failed to prove the connection between the Scott family and Irene Scott, who had yet to marry Emerson at the times discussed. Although Samuel Russell, who had hired Scott after the Emersons married, also spoke on the plaintiffs' behalf, his testimony was impeached on a technicality. The jury returned a verdict for Mrs. Emerson.

Bay moved for a new trial at which he planned to present additional witnesses supporting Dred Scott's claims. The motion was granted, but due to errors (Dred Scott's new attorneys, Alexander Field and David Hall, approached the Missouri Supreme Court prematurely, and the case was remanded back to the original court), a heavy court schedule, a fire in the courthouse, and an outbreak of cholera, the trial didn't occur until 1850.

In the interim, the widow Emerson moved to Massachusetts and married Dr. Calvin Chaffee, a prominent abolitionist who won election to Congress shortly after the couple's wedding.

At some point, Irene Emerson (or Chaffee) attempted to distance herself from the legal proceedings, and transferred responsibility for hiring out the Blow family to the county sheriff. Charles Edmund LaBeaume, a St. Louis lawyer and member of the Blow family by marriage, hired the Scotts' in 1851 (they remained with LaBeaume for seven years).

At the second trial, Field and Hall bolstered their case by providing an affidavit from Adeline Russell indicating she had made financial arrangements directly with Irene Emerson for the employ of Dred Scott. With the connection to the plaintiff and respondent established, the jury agreed Dred Scott and his family should be freed under the "once free, always free" doctrine. Sanford appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court judgment by a vote of 2-1 in 1852.

In 1853, friends of the Scott family suggested filing suit in the federal Circuit Court for the District of Missouri under the diversity clause (the diversity clause gives federal courts jurisdiction over cases between citizens of different states). Unfortunately, the Blow family could no longer afford to underwrite Dred Scott's legal expenses. Charles La Beaume took responsibility for filing the case and briefs in federal court himself, and persuaded his friend, Roswell M. Field (no relation to Alexander Field), to argue the case pro bono.

At this point, Irene Emerson Chaffee apparently asked her brother, John Sanford, a New York businessman, to assume responsibility for the case. Sanford claimed to be the rightful owner of the Scott family, having allegedly purchased them directly from the late Dr. Emerson prior to his death. There are no papers or records indicating transfer of ownership, but Sanford may have had standing as executor of Dr. Emerson's estate, despite lying about ownership. Historians speculate Sanford's legal expenses may have been paid by his late wife's family, who were major slave holders in the state of Missouri.

The federal suit was similar in most respects to the original litigation in 1846, except that the Scott's daughters were added as plaintiffs, and the family now requested damages in the amount of $9,000.

The question of citizenship was originally raised in pretrial motions before the federal Circuit Court, when one of Sanford's attorneys, Hugh Garland, argued the court lacked jurisdiction because Dred Scott was not a citizen due to being a "negro of African descent." Field countered that Scott's ethnic heritage did not bar him from citizenship or the right to sue. Since this was an unsettled point of law, the court overruled Sanford, who then pled not guilty to Dred Scott's charges.

Supreme Court Case

The Circuit Court found in favor of Sanford, and Scott's attorney appealed to the US Supreme Court for the 1854 Term. Roswell requested Montgomery Blair, a St. Louis attorney living in Washington, DC, argue Dred Scott's case before the Court.

The question before the Court was distilled to the constitutionality of the "once free, always free" doctrine.

Montgomery Blair (Scott's attorney) argued that freedom based on residence in a free state or territory was permanent, and slavery did not reattach on return to a slave state. This ruling had stood in Missouri until the state supreme court had taken a partisan political stance in its 1852 majority opinion. He also stated that a "Negro of African descent" could be a citizen of the United States.

The respondent's attorneys, Reverdy Johnson and Henry S. Geyer, argued the Congressional authority to relieve a slave-owner of his property in so-called free states and territories was unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause. Their position was that Dred Scott was never free to begin with.

The constitutional issues elevated the Dred Scott case to national prominence, and heightened tension between opposing interests.

On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the 7-2 verdict of the Court. The majority held that "A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a "citizen" within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States....Consequently, the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them. And not being "citizens" within the meaning of the Constitution, they are not entitled to sue in that character in a court of the United States, and the Circuit Court has not jurisdiction in such a suit."

Under Taney's interpretation, neither Dred Scott nor any other African-American, had standing to sue for his or her freedom; nor did the federal courts have jurisdiction to hear the cases. [This holding alone was extremely crippling to legal emancipation prior to Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.] Since African-Americans could not be citizens of the United States, the Court reasoned, they could also not claim to be citizens of any of its states or territories, barring them from pursuing justice in the state courts, as well. "The plaintiff having admitted, by his demurrer to the plea in abatement, that his ancestors were imported from Africa and sold as slaves, he is not a citizen of the State of Missouri according to the Constitution of the United States, and was not entitled to sue in that character in the Circuit Court."

Further, Taney declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional as a state's rights issue, claiming Congress had no constitutional authority to restrict slave ownership among the states, or to deprive slave owners of their "property," once the federal territories became states: "The clause in the Constitution authorizing Congress to make all needful rules and regulations for the government of the territory and other property of the United States applies only to territory within the chartered limits of some one of the States when they were colonies of Great Britain, and which was surrendered by the British Government to the old Confederation of the States in the treaty of peace. It does not apply to territory acquired by the present Federal Government by treaty or conquest from a foreign nation."

"During the time it remains a Territory, Congress may legislate over it within the scope of its constitutional powers in relation to citizens of the United States, and may establish a Territorial Government, and the form of the local Government must be regulated by the discretion of Congress, but with powers not exceeding those which Congress itself, by the Constitution, is authorized to exercise over citizens of the United States in respect to the rights of persons or rights of property."

"Congress have no right to prohibit the citizens of any particular State or States from taking up their home there while it permits citizens of other States to do so. Nor has it a right to give privileges to one class of citizens which it refuses to another. The territory is acquired for their equal and common benefit, and if open to any, it must be open to all upon equal and the same terms.

"Every citizen has a right to take with him into the Territory any article of property which the Constitution of the United States recognizes as property.

"The Constitution of the United States recognizes slaves as property, and pledges the Federal Government to protect it. And Congress cannot exercise any more authority over property of that description than it may constitutionally exercise over property of any other kind.

"The act of Congress, therefore, prohibiting a citizen of the United States from taking with him his slaves when he removes to the Territory in question to reside is an exercise of authority over private property which is not warranted by the Constitution, and the removal of the plaintiff by his owner to that Territory gave him no title to freedom."

Taney also put an end to the "once free, always free," doctrine replacing it with a concept more akin to "once owned, always owned," based on Fifth Amendment property protections.

"The plaintiff himself acquired no title to freedom by being taken by his owner to Rock Island, in Illinois, and brought back to Missouri. This court has heretofore decided that thestatus or condition of a person of African descent depended on the laws of the State in which he resided.

"It has been settled by the decisions of the highest court in Missouri that, by the laws of that State, a slave does not become entitled to his freedom where the owner takes him to reside in a State where slavery is not permitted and afterwards brings him back to Missouri."

The Court affirmed the decision of the Missouri Supreme Court and found in favor of Sanford. The seven members voting against Dred Scott were all pro-slavery and had ties to the South.

Justices Curtis and McLean dissented from the ruling, finding no constitutional grounds for prohibiting African-Americans from being citizens of the United States, and finding fault with Taney's contradictory claims that the Court lacked jurisdiction, while simultaneously adjudicating the case. When a court lacks jurisdiction, the case is supposed to be dismissed without a decision.

Taney apparently hoped his ruling would settle the question of slave ownership and reduce mounting tensions between the southern states and northern abolitionists; however, historians often cite the Dred Scott decision as one of the major catalysts to the Civil War.


Dred Scott almost had his happy ending despite the Supreme Court.

Revelation that Congressman Calvin Chaffee's wife, Irene, owned the most famous slave in the United States, brought heavy criticism, both in the press and on the floors of Congress, for the hypocrisy of an abolitionist owning a slave. Chaffee immediately arranged for ownership of the Scott family to be transferred to the late Peter Blow's son, Taylor, who was a resident of Missouri. Under law, only a citizen of Missouri had the right to emancipate a slave in that state.

Irene Chaffee, not satisfied with a nominal payment for the exchange, insisted Blow pay her back wages the Scotts earned during the seven years they lived with Charles LaBeaume, a sum she calculated at $750.00 (this was higher than the Scotts' market value had they been sold publicly). Blow paid the charge without complaint.

May 26, 1857, Taylor Blow took the Scott family to the St. Louis County courthouse and had them emancipated.

Dred Scott found work as a porter at Barnum's St. Louis Hotel, at Second and Walnut Streets in downtown St. Louis, and become something of a local celebrity. Unfortunately, he died of tuberculosis in September 1858, little more than a year after gaining his freedom.

Harriet Scott outlived her husband by 18 years. Eliza Scott died of an unspecified cause at the age of 25, sometime around 1863. Lizzie Scott married and had two sons, only one of whom lived to adulthood.

Case Citation:

Dred Scott v. Sandford*, 60 US 393 (1857)

Although the case is published as Scott v. Sandford, the correct spelling of the defendant's last name was Sanford. The misspelling was the result of a clerical error that went undetected until sometime after the case was published.

US Presidents
US Supreme Court

What US President later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?

William Howard Taft is the only person in US History to serve as both President of the United States and and a member of the US Supreme Court.

In 1921, President Warren G. Harding nominated Taft to replace Chief Justice Edward Douglas White, who had died in office. The Senate confirmed his nomination in a secret vote by a margin of 60-4. Taft presided over the Court until 1930, when he was forced to retire due to ill health.

US Presidents
US Constitution
US Supreme Court

Who approves the President's US Supreme Court appointments?

The Senate (Legislative branch) votes to confirm or reject the Presidents' (Executive branch) US Supreme Court (Judicial branch) nominees. Approval requires a simple majority of the Senators voting, unless a Senator attempts to block the vote by filibuster, in which case a three-fifths (60) vote is required to end the filibuster. under current Senate rules.

For more information, see Related Questions, below.

congress A+

US Supreme Court

What qualifications are needed to become a US Supreme Court justice?

There are no constitutional requirements for becoming a US Supreme Court justice; however, the President usually considers the recommendation and evaluation of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. The ABA lists the following suggested minimum criteria for nomination to the US Supreme Court:

  1. Member in good standing in the state bar for at least five years
  2. Practicing trial attorney and/or trial judge for at least 12 years
  3. Competent citizen of good character, integrity, reason, intelligence, and judgment
  4. Distinguished accomplishments
  5. Required to be legal scholar

Practical Considerations and Interesting Facts:

  • While Article III of the Constitution does not specify the qualifications required of a Supreme Court Justice, or specify the size of the court, it does empower Congress to create legislation or make collective decisions that result in de facto requirements.
  • Because members of the Supreme Court must be experts on the Constitution, Constitutional law, and federal law, all past and present members of the Supreme Court have been attorneys.

    Those who were commissioned before the mid- to late-19th century learned the law by studying and apprenticing with more experienced attorneys; states didn't mandate licensing until the 20th-century.

  • Of the 112 Supreme Court members, only 47 have held degrees from accredited law schools; 18 attended law school, but never attained a degree; and 47 were self-taught and/or went through an apprenticeship.
  • The first Justice to graduate from law school was Benjamin Robbins Curtis, Harvard class of 1832, appointed to the bench in 1851.
  • The last sitting Justice without a formal law degree was Stanley Forman Reed, who served from 1938-1957.
  • Today, nominees are judged by the quality of the law school attended and the extent of their experience on the bench. Twenty-three of the 47 degreed candidates graduated from Harvard or Yale, while a number of the remainder graduated from other T14 (Top 14) schools.
  • On the current Court, six Justices went to Harvard, two to Yale, and one to Columbia.
  • Credentials have become so important over the last 50 years that, when Richard Nixon named Mildred Lillie and Hershel Friday as potential nominees for the Court in 1971, the American Bar Association objected on the grounds that they were unqualified for the position, and their names were withdrawn from the pool. The ABA also objected to President George W. Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers, his personal attorney and White House counsel, to the bench in 2005.
  • Public service and political connections also factor heavily into the nomination process. For example, all but one appointee, George Shiras, Jr. (served 1892-1903), has held public office or been a judge prior to nomination, and three-fifths of the nominees have been personal acquaintances of the President who nominated them.
  • While the Constitution stipulates no minimum or maximum age for judicial service, most nominees are under the age of 60, to help ensure a long tenure on the court. Most are in their 40s or 50s when appointed. The youngest Justice ever seated was Joseph Story, at the age of 32, in 1812; the oldest at time of appointment was Charles Evan Hughes, who was 67, in 1930.
  • Most of the 112 Supreme Court members have been white, male, Protestants. The first Jewish Justice was Louis Brandeis, commissioned in 1916; the first of only two African-Americans was Thurgood Marshall, commissioned in 1967 (the second being Clarence Thomas, who replaced Marshall); the first of four females was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, commissioned in 1981, and retired in 2006. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Justice Elena Kagan are currently serving. In addition to being the only the third of four women appointed to the Court, Sonia Sotomayor is also the first Latina commissioned. There are currently no Protestants serving on the Supreme Court.

For more information, see Related Questions, below.

Salary and Pay Rates
US Government
US Supreme Court

How much are US Supreme Court justices paid?

As of 2011, the Chief Justice of the United States receives an annual salary of $223,500, and the Associate Justices receive annual salaries of $213,900.

To read how much the first Supreme Court justices earned, see Related Questions, below.

US Government
Court Procedure
US Supreme Court

Who nominates US Supreme Court justices?

The President of the United States (Executive branch) nominates US Supreme Court justices and other federal judges.

The Senate must approve the nomination by a simple majority vote (51%) in order for the appointment to be made. If the Senate rejects the nomination, the President must choose someone else.

This process is mandated by Article II, Section 2 of the US Constitution:

"[The President] shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments."

For more information, see Related Questions, below. Yes. Candidates for the United States Supreme Court are nominated by the President, and must be confirmed by the Senate in order to take office.

US Constitution
US Government
US Supreme Court

What is judicial review and how is it used?

Judicial review is the power of the courts to review laws, treaties, policies or executive orders relevant to cases before the court and nullify (overturn) those that are found unconstitutional.

The Marbury v. Madison decision and provides the Supreme Court with the power to interpret the Constitution.

Judicial Review is not an American invention, but a standard part of British common law that became part of the legal process in the United States. The first recorded use under the US Constitution was in 1792, when the circuit courts found an act of Congress related to military veterans unconstitutional. Congress rewrote the law, without protest, in 1793.

The US Supreme Court first exercised judicial review 1796, in the case of Hylton v. United States, although the rationale for using it had been laid in Federalist No. 78. Hylton v. United States was the first instance in which the Supreme Court evaluated the constitutionality of a federal law. In Hylton, the legislation, a carriage tax, was upheld. In a later case that year, Ware v. Hylton, the Ellsworth Court determined The Treaty of Paris took precedence over an otherwise constitutional state law and nullified the law.

The US Supreme Court case most often credited with affirming the doctrine of judicial review is Marbury v Madison,(1803) in which Chief Justice John Marshall declared Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 unconstitutional. This was the first time the Supreme Court overturned federal legislation. It greatly strengthened the power of the judicial branch, which had thus far been weaker than the other two.

Judicial review in the United States also refers to the power of the Court to review the actions of public sector bodies in terms of their lawfulness, or to review the constitutionality of a statute or treaty, or to review an administrative regulation or executive order for consistency with either a statute, a treaty, or the Constitution itself.

Judicial review is part of the United States' system of checks and balances on government. The Supreme Court has the power to review acts of the Legislative (Congress) and Executive (Presidential) branches to ensure they don't become too powerful or abrogate the Constitutional rights of the country's citizens.

Examples of Supreme Court Cases Involving Judicial Review

Hylton v. United States, 3 US 171 (1796)

Ware v. Hylton, 3 US 199 (1796)

Marbury v. Madison, 5 US (Cranch 1) 137 (1803)

Dred Scott. v. Sanford, 60 US 393 (1857)

West Virginia v. Barnette, 319 US 624 (1943)

Brown v. Board of Education, 347 US 483 (1954)

Baker v. Carr, 369 US 186 (1962)

Roe v. Wade, 410 US 113 (1973)

United States v. Nixon, 418 US 683 (1974)

interpret executive actions, legislation, and lower court decisions. (GradPoint)

US Constitution
US Government
US Supreme Court

What process allows the US Supreme Court to judge the constitutionality of a law?

judicial review

US Constitution
US Government
US Supreme Court

How does someone become a US Supreme Court justice?

The President nominates a candidate for the US Supreme Court; the Senate votes whether to confirm or reject the nomination. If the candidate is confirmed, he or she is appointed to the US Supreme Court.


The preselected list of candidates is usually recommended by people in the President's political party or by members of legislation (House of Representatives, and Congress), usually it's a combination of both. The President nominates a potential justice.

After a candidate has been nominated, the FBI investigates the person's background and provides a report to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee conducts hearings (questioning) on the candidate. The hearing is meant to determine whether the candidate is qualified and suitable for the position.

After the Committee reviews the nominee, they pass a recommendation to reject or coor. The Senate then votes for or against the candidate. In order to become a Supreme Court Justice, the nominee must receive a simple majority (51 votes) of the Senate, unless a group chooses to filibuster, in which case a three-fifths (60) cloture vote is required to end the filibuster and complete the appointment.

It is highly unlikely that a candidate will be rejected. Since 1789, the Senate has rejected 30 out of the 144 nominees, the most recent being Robert Bork in 1987.

A Contributor's Tip

First, get into law: go to a good College or University, then to a specialized law school. All in all, a LOT of years in school. Then, you probably start out as an intern for a defense lawyer or crown council. You could join a defense firm later on. If you're really good, and once you have enough experience, you can become employed by the government as a provincial crown, then a supreme court crown. After 30+ or so years, you can apply for a judging job, then work your way up to supreme court Judge.

US Constitution
US Government
US Supreme Court

How does the US Supreme Court check the power of Congress and the President?

The Supreme Court uses judicial review to declare actions by the President or Congress to be invalid if they are contrary to the Constitution. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and no presidential act or congressional laws may conflict with it. The Courts are the interpreters of the laws and as such they interpret the Constitution and laws to decide if they conflict with one another.

Further, it allows the Judicial Branch to "define" that law by answering questions about it that are not spoken to directly in the regulation itself.

Chief Justice John Marshall clearly affirmed the power of judicial review in the case Marbury v. Madison, (1803), when the Court declared Section 13 of the Judicial Act of 1789 unconstitutional.

It should be noted that the US Supreme Court, for the most part, determines what laws to review based on decisions made in lower Federal Courts. In most cases the Court waits for a case to be presented to them. It then can reject hearing the case or depend on the ruling of the lower courts.

For more information on Marbury v. Madison, see Related Links, below.

The US Supreme Court uses the process called Judicial Review to see if the laws passed by the Congress and the President are in alignment with the constitution. If they are contrary to the constitution, the laws are declared unconstitutional and are deemed null and void.

US Supreme Court
Richard Nixon
US Government

What was the Supreme Court case US v Nixon about?

United States v. Nixon, (1974) involved the disposition of taped conversations between President Nixon and various members of the White House staff regarding the Watergate scandal, the administration's criminal conspiracy to obstruct an investigation of the break-in at Democratic campaign headquarters in the Watergate complex, in Washington, D.C.


On June 17, 1972, five members of the Nixon re-election campaign broke into the Democratic campaign headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., to steal important files relevant to the upcoming election.

When the crime was discovered, President Nixon promised the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would appoint Archibald Cox as independent counsel to investigate the break-in.

In the course of the investigation, Cox subpoenaed Nixon for copies of eight tapes containing conversations recorded in the Oval Office. The President refused to comply with the subpoena, claiming executive privilege gave him immunity from releasing sensitive information. He instead offered a compromise in which he would allow Senator John Stennis (D-MS), a respected member of Congress, to review the tapes and summarize their content for the prosecutor. Nixon claimed he didn't want the tapes or transcripts on the public record because he had used foul language and uttered racial slurs during the conversations. The President's resistance implicated him as being involved in the cover-up of the Watergate break-in, making him part of a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice.

When Cox refused the compromise, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. When the men refused to comply with the Executive order, they were forced to resign their positions. The removal of Cox, Richardson and Ruckelshaus later became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre."

Due to strong public pressure, Nixon was forced to appoint a new prosecutor to the investigation, Leon Jaworski.

Jaworski went to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and obtained a subpeona from Judge John Sirica ordering Nixon to release tapes and documents associated with the Watergate investigation. Nixon responded by returning 43 edited and typed transcripts of the White House telephone conversations, only 20 of which were among those requested in the court order.

Nixon's counsel then filed a motion in District Court requesting Sirica quash the subpoena. Sirica denied the motion and ordered the President to provide Jaworski with the required material by May 31, 1974.

Supreme Court Ruling

Both parties appealed directly to the Supreme Court.

Nixon's attorney argued the matter was outside the Court's jurisdiction because it involved incidents occurring exclusively within the Executive branch. He also claimed Nixon had absolute executive privilege to protect the content of the tapes.

Chief Justice Warren Burger delivered the unanimous (8-0; Justice Rehnquist recused himself for conflict of interest) opinion of the Court proclaiming the judiciary did, indeed, have jurisdiction over the matter, and that Jaworski had proven a "sufficient likelihood that each of the tapes contains conversations relevant to the offenses charged in the indictment." The Court further rejected the claim of unqualified executive privilege, and implied Nixon could be found in contempt by refusing to produce the evidence. Nixon's rights under this criminal investigation were no greater than that of any other person.

The Court also remarked that only the Attorney General had the authority to revoke the Special Prosecutor's commission but, because they refused to do so, the Executive branch was bound by the prosecutor's request, and the other two branches of government were bound to enforce it.

Nixon reluctantly complied with the ruling.

Under threat of impeachment and probable prosecution in the Senate, which would remove him from office, Nixon chose to resign in August 1974.

This case further established the power of the Supreme Court to act as a check on the Executive branch of government.

Additional Notes

Nixon had appointed four Supreme Court Justices, three of whom participated in the unanimous vote to affirm the District Court's decision: Chief Justice Burger and Justices Blackmun, Powell and Rehnquist (who recused himself). Ironically, Nixon chose these four individuals because of their hard-line conservative stance on issues.

The Nixon administration engaged in more legal confrontation over the extent of Executive power than any other administration. Other cases against Nixon's orders and policies included:

United States v. U.S. District Court, 407 US 297 (1972)

The Court upheld the Fourth Amendment in limiting the government's ability to conduct surveillance on people labeled domestic terrorists. This particular case dealt with wire-tapping the phones of three people conspiring to destroy government property. The ruling established the precedent that law enforcement must obtain a warrant to engage in electronic surveillance.

Train v. City of New York, 420 US 35 (1975)

The Court held that President Nixon had exceeded his authority by refusing to distribute 18 billion dollars in state aid Congress allocated under the Water Pollution Control Act.

New York Times v. United States, 403 US 713 (1971)

In a Per Curiam decision, the Supreme Court upheld the District and Circuit courts' ruling that Nixon did not have executive authority to exercise prior restraint against The New York Times and The Washington Post to prevent them from publishing parts of a Department of Defense report colloquially known as the "Pentagon Papers."

Case Citation:

United States v. Nixon, 418 US 683 (1974)

To read the Court's opinion on United States v. Nixonor listen to copies of the original Watergate audio tapes, see Related Links, below.

US Constitution
Police and Law Enforcement
US Supreme Court

How did Miranda v Arizona change the standard for admissibility of confessions and admissions?

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966)

Miranda applied the "exclusionary rule" to any statements or confessions the defendant made in response to police interrogation if the defendant hadn't been informed of relevant due process rights beforehand. Under the exclusionary rule, illegally obtained evidence may not be used to convict a defendant in court.

According to the US Supreme Court, a person in police custody must be told he (or she) has the right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination (Fifth Amendment). The person must also be advised of the right to have an attorney present before and during questioning, and to receive court-appointed legal counsel if he (she) can't afford to hire an attorney (Sixth Amendment).

The decision in Miranda wisely assumes ignorance of constitutional rights. If the person in custody is not advised of these rights, and doesn't invoke the rights, any exculpatory or inculpatory statements are considered unconstitutionally obtained evidence, and are inadmissible in court.

The Miranda ruling has been revised somewhat by subsequent Supreme Court decisions. On June 1, 2010, the Roberts' Court released the opinion for Berghuis v. Thompkins,08-1470 (2010), which held a defendant must invoke his right to remain silent (by stating he wants to remain silent), rather than waive it (by explicitly agreeing to answer questions before interrogation).

US Supreme Court

How does Congress check the power of the US Supreme Court?

How Congress Checks the Supreme Court:

  • Senate approves federal judges, including Supreme Court justices (Advise and Consent Clause)
  • Impeachment power (House)
  • Trial of impeachments (Senate)
  • Power to initiate constitutional amendments (to undo supreme court decisions)
  • Power to set courts inferior to the Supreme Court
  • Power to set jurisdiction of courts (they can tell a court that they can not hear a case on a certain topic, which includes changing the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court)
  • Power to alter the size of the Supreme Court (if the size is drastically increased the President may select all the new justices and change the sway of power)

More Information

Congress can check the power of the Supreme Court through the process of Constitutional Amendment. While the Supreme Court can rule that a particular law is unconstitutional, it cannot rule that the Constitution itself is unconstitutional. If the Congress (and 3/4 of the state legislatures) approve a constitutional amendment, it becomes the supreme law of the land, and the Supreme Court cannot overrule the Constitution.

Here is a typical example of how the Congress overcomes the rulings of the Supreme Court:

The 18th amendment was passed by Congress and ratified by the states. That made it illegal to manufacture, sell, or transport alcohol. The SC had no choice but to rule in favor of any law that specified penalties for manufacturing, selling, or transport of alcohol. Many people over the years (1919-1933) went to jail for violating those laws, based upon their constitutionality in light of the 18th amendment.

In 1933, the Congress simply repealed the 18th amendment with the 21st amendment, and the states ratified that amendment. The SC since then has had to rule against any blanket law that prohibits the manufacture, sale, or transport of alcohol.

Several times, the SC has struck down laws that prohibit desecration of the American flag. Their rulings are always based upon the 1st amendment which protects individuals' rights to express themselves, even when that expression is offensive to many, even most other citizens.

If Congress were to pass an amendment that prohibited desecration of the American flag, and it were to be ratified by the majority of the states, the SC would likely have to uphold any laws that provided penalties for said desecration.

Amending the Constitution is a difficult and time-consuming process. It was designed to be that way, so that people could not easily alter our form of government on a whim of the moment.

US Constitution
US Supreme Court

What is the Judicial Branch of the US government?

The Judicial Branch* is one of three independent parts of the US Government, and consists of the constitutional courts of the federal court system (not the entire federal court system, as most people believe). The primary responsibility of the judicial branch is to interpret and apply the laws, and ensure their constitutionality.

The three branches of government share responsibility for the legal system. The Legislative branch (Congress) creates law; the Judicial branch determines their constitutionality and resolves disputes; and the Executive branch enforces the laws.

The Supreme Court of the United States is head of the Judicial Branch. The other Article III (constitutional) courts are also part of the judicial branch.

  • US District Courts
  • US Court of International Trade
  • US Court of Appeals Circuit Courts
  • US Supreme Court

* People sometimes mistakenly call the Judicial Branch the "Judiciary" Branch. If referring to the US government, this term is incorrect.

The official definition for the word judicial is "of, by, or appropriate to a court or judge."

US Supreme Court

A simple majority of the justices is enough to render a?

This will render a Supreme Court opinion.

Politics and Government
Law & Legal Issues
US Government
US Supreme Court

What are the powers of the Judicial Branch?

The Judicial Branch, also known as the Supreme Court, has the power to declare actions unconstitutional and interpret treaties when checking the president. When checking Congress, the judicial branch has power to decide laws unconstitutional.

US Government
US Supreme Court
US Congress

How do Supreme Court nominees get approved?

The pre-selected list of candidates is usually recommended by people in the President's political party or by members of legislation (House of Representatives and Congress) - usually it's a combination of both.

After a candidate has been selected, the Senate Judiciary Committee conducts hearings (questioning) on the candidate. The hearing is meant to determine whether the candidate is qualified and suitable for the position.

After the Committee reviews the nominee, they pass a recommendation to reject or confirm to the Senate floor. The Senate then votes for or against the candidate. In order to become a Supreme Court Justice, the nominee must receive a simple majority (51 votes) of the Senate, unless a group chooses to filibuster, in which case a three fifths super majority is required to complete the appointment.

It is highly unlikely that a candidate will be rejected. Since 1789, the Senate has rejected 30 out of the 144 nominees, the most recent being Robert Bork in 1987.

US Constitution
US Government
US Supreme Court

What was the US Supreme Court case McCulloch v Maryland 1819 about and what did it establish?

McCulloch v. Maryland, (1819), was a landmark United States Supreme Court decision.

In this case, the state of Maryland attempted to impede operation of a branch of the Second Bank of the United States by imposing a tax on all notes of banks not chartered in Maryland. Though the law, by its language, was generally applicable, the U.S. Bank was the only out-of-state bank then existing in Maryland, and the law is generally recognized as specifically targeting the U.S. Bank. The Court invoked the doctrine of implied powers in the Constitution, which allowed the Federal government to pass laws not expressly provided for in the Constitution's list of enumerated powers as long as they are in useful furtherance of those powers.

The fundamental case established the following two principles:

  1. The Article I, Section 8, Necessary and Proper Clause of the US Constitution grants Congress implied powers inherent as a blueprint for a practically functional government, and
  2. that state action may not impede valid constitutional exercises of power by the Federal government.

The opinion was written by Chief Justice John Marshall, a man whose many opinions shape modern constitutional law.


The dispute that led to McCulloch began in 1790 between Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who favored congressional authority to create a Bank of the United States, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Attorney General Edmund Randolph, who opposed. Despite the resistance, Congress created the First Bank of the United States in 1791. The bank existed until 1811, when the charter expired. However, the bank was re-instituted as the Second Bank of the United States in 1816 to resolve the serious economic problems of the country. The economic troubles continued, however, and many states opposed the bank because it called for loans owed by the states. The State of Maryland retaliated by creating a law to tax any bank not chartered by the state. The U.S. Bank refused to pay the taxes and Maryland filed suit against James McCulloch, the cashier of the Baltimore branch of the Bank of the United States.

To begin, the court determined that Congress had the power to charter the bank. Marshall supported this conclusion with three arguments. First, the court argued historically that the Constitution was a social contract created by the people at the Constitutional Convention. The government proceeds from the people and bound the state sovereignties. Therefore, the federal government is supreme based on the consent of the people.

Second, Congress is bound to act under explicit or implied powers of the Constitution. Pragmatically, if all of the powers were listed, we would not be able to understand or embrace the document; it is not possible to write everything. Although the term "bank" is not included, there are powers such as to lay and collect taxes, to borrow money and to regulate commerce. Although not explicitly stated, Congress has the implied right to create the bank.

Third, Marshall supports the opinion textually under the Necessary and Proper Clause, which permits Congress to seek an objective that is within the enumerated powers as long as it is rationally related to the objective and not forbidden by the Constitution. Marshall rejected Maryland's narrow interpretation of the clause because many of the enumerated powers would be useless. Also, the clause is listed within the powers of Congress, not the limitations. For those reasons, "necessary" does not mean the only way to do something and applies to procedures to implement all constitutionally established powers. In conclusion, Congress has the authority to promulgate legislation as long as the result is legitimate under the Constitution and adopted for the objective.

Next, Marshall determined whether Maryland may tax the branch of the bank without violating the Constitution. The Supremacy clause dictates that State laws comply with the Constitution and succumb when there is a conflict. Taking as undeniable the fact that "the power to tax involves the power to destroy", the court concluded that the Maryland tax could not be levied against the government. If states were allowed to continue their acts, they would destroy the institution created by federal government and oppose the principle of federal supremacy which originated in the text of the Constitution.

The court held that Maryland violated the Constitution by taxing the bank, and therefore voided that tax. The opinion mandated that Congress has implied power that needs to be related to the text of the Constitution, but not all powers need to be within the text. This case was an essential element in the struggle for the creation of federalism, and the permanent balance between federal power and States' rights.

Case Citation:

McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819)

For more information, see Related Questions, below.

US Supreme Court

Who was the first Supreme Court Chief Justice in America?

John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court*, appointed on October 19, 1789 by President George Washington. Jay served on the Court until the end of June, 1795, when he resigned to become Governor of New York.

The Supreme Court was first called to assemble on February 1, 1790, at the Royal Exchange Building on the corner of Broad and Water Streets in New York City, then the Nation's Capital, but travel impediments prevented the Court from meeting until the next day, February 2, 1790. Some of the Associate Justices, such as John Rutledge, didn't attend the meeting.

The first Supreme Court comprised only six Justices:

Chief Justice:

John Jay, from New York

Associate Justices:

John Rutledge, from South Carolina

William Cushing, from Massachusetts

James Wilson, from Pennsylvania

John Blair, from Virginia

James Iredell, from North Carolina.

*Note: The correct title is now Chief Justice of the United States, but most people refer to this person as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

US Supreme Court
Women in History
Sandra Day O'Connor

Does Sandra Day O'Connor have grandchildren?

yes she has atleast two with the names keely and Adam

US Supreme Court

In what branch of the US government is the Supreme Court?

The US Supreme Court is the head of the Judicial branchof the federal government, mandated by Article III, Section 1, of the Constitution and established by the Judiciary Act of 1789 and various Judiciary Acts thereafter. The other two branches are the Legislative branch (Congress), and the Executive branch (the President, Vice-President, Cabinet members, etc.).


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