The United States Supreme Court – The Nuts and Bolts

Supreme court

The United States Supreme Court – The Nuts and Bolts

The Supreme Court is powerful, and has the final say on the constitutionality of all issues brought before it.

Article III of the US Constitution established the Supreme Court of the United States in 1789. The Supreme Court is the final interpreter of federal constitutional law, having appellate jurisdiction over all federal courts and over state court cases involving issues of federal law. With over 8000 petitions of Certiorari (applications for review) filed with the Supreme Court per year, only about 80 – 100 are granted.

Since the Court’s inception, there have only been four women to serve as justices, three of which are currently sitting. Historically, the average Supreme Court Justice is approximately 69 years old, with the average retirement coming at 79 years of age. However, the average length a justice serves is 26 years.

The Chief Justice is the most “senior” member of the Court. This “senior” status is not based on the length of service on the Court and is also not based on age. There is no requirement that the Chief Justice previously serve as an Associate Justice (as in the case of John Roberts). Like all members of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Our Constitution does not specify the number of justices to sit on the Court. Originally, there was one Chief Justice and five Associate Justices. That number continued to change until 1869, when the Circuit Judges Act raised the total number of justices to nine, where it has since remained. Our Constitution also does not specify any qualifications needed to serve as a justice.

Appointment to the Court starts with the President nominating a candidate. Then after Senate confirmation, the person is appointed to the Court. The Senate has only rejected 12 presidential nominees since 1925. Once appointed, justices have life tenure unless they resign, retire, or are removed after impeachment (though no justice has ever been impeached). Justices may retire once they meet the age and service requirement of federal employees, which is at least 65 years of age and having served in federal courts for 15 years. The current salary for a Supreme Court Justice is $213,900, with an additional $10,000 for the Chief Justice.

Over the years, the selection process of appointing new justices has become very political. Currently, we have one open seat on the Court, with Justice Scalia’s death, and we anticipate two or three more seats opening up very soon. Three of our eight current justices are ages 78, 80 and 83. Thus, our new president may get to appoint up to four new justices in his term.


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