Nine judges — called justices — make up the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court is led by one justice, called the Chief Justice of the United States. The other eight justices 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 United States 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. Currently three women, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, are serving on the Supreme Court.
  • 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.

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    • That’s awesome, Wonder Friend Isabel! Thanks for telling us all about your WONDERing today- hooray for learning about the judicial system! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How many judges are on the Supreme Court?
  • How long do justices serve on the Supreme Court?
  • How much money do Supreme Court justices earn?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

If you’re ready to argue your way all the way to the Supreme Court, find a few friends and family members to help you check out one or more of the following activities:

  • Do you agree with the judge? Ask an adult to take you to an open session at a local courthouse. Listen to the matters brought before the judge. Do you understand the decisions that are made? Do you agree with them? Why or why not? Would you want to be a judge one day? Discuss potential careers in the justice field with your parents.
  • Most children learn how to become good arguers all by themselves, but some eventually make a profession out of it by becoming lawyers. Think you have what it takes to argue before the Supreme Court? Try your skills on your family first! Most children want to go to bed later than their parents say they have to. Whether it’s one more video game, an extra chapter of a favorite book or another episode of your favorite television show, bedtime usually comes too soon. Have you ever argued for a later bedtime? What kinds of arguments might you make? As you know, your parents are the judges. Can you persuade them to let you stay up a bit later? Think of what arguments might persuade them. What facts can you think of that support your position? To win your case, you will also need to think of the counterarguments your parents will make. Be sure you’re prepared to address issues such as how many hours of sleep you need and whether it’s a school night or not.
  • Up for a challenge? Think about what would happen if you and 1,000 of your closest friends became stranded on a remote island. There’s no chance of escape. You simply have to start a new society on the island where you’re stuck. What kind of justice system would you put into place? What pieces would make up your system? Who would make the laws? Who would interpret them? Who would enforce them? Using what you know of the governmental systems where you live, what would you keep and what would you change about the systems you’re most familiar with? Try your hand at writing a simple, basic constitution that would set forth the pieces of your new justice system.

Still Wondering

Balancing rights and responsibilities is difficult, even for the Supreme Court! Use EDSITEment’s The First Amendment: What’s Fair in a Free Country? lesson to demonstrate that freedom of speech is an ongoing process.


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