Nine judges — called “justices” — make up the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court is led by one justice — the chief justice of the United States. The other eight judges are known as associate justices.
Justices are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Once confirmed, justices serve for life. They only leave the Supreme Court if they die, resign, retire or are convicted on impeachment for bad behavior.
There is no long list of special requirements to be appointed a Supreme Court justice. However, all justices will have had special training in the law.
Justices come from many backgrounds. Some have been judges before, while others may have served as members of Congress, governors or other positions within the government.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States for all cases arising under the Constitution or federal law. Its duty is to guarantee “Equal Justice Under Law.”
The Supreme Court meets in Washington, D.C., in the U.S. Supreme Court Building. The Supreme Court did not have its own building until 1935, even though it had been around for 146 years already! Before 1935, the Supreme Court met in various locations, including the U.S. Capitol.
The Supreme Court is mainly an appellate court, which means that it decides whether lower courts made correct decisions about the law during trials or earlier appeals. Each year, approximately 10,000 petitions are filed with the Supreme Court, requesting that it review a lower court’s decision.
The justices decide which cases they will consider, and they only end up considering a limited number of cases each year. The cases chosen usually involve important questions of federal or Constitutional law.
Former Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes once noted that the Supreme Court is “distinctly American in concept and function.” He was certainly right! Very few other courts around the world have such an important role in government.
Interesting Supreme Court facts:
- In 1789, the chief justice’s salary was $4,000, and associate justices earned $3,500. In 2010, the chief justice earned $223,500, and associate justices made $213,900.
- In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. As of March 2011, three women — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — are serving on the Supreme Court simultaneously.
- Only one justice — Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase — has ever appeared on U.S. currency. Chase appeared on the $10,000 bill, which is not printed today.
- Only one president — William H. Taft — also served as a Supreme Court justice.
- Only one president — Jimmy Carter — served a full term without nominating a Supreme Court justice.