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The United States Supreme Court

Judicial power in the United States

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    The nature and functions of the Supreme Court are specified in Article 3 of the US Constitution. The Supreme Court is the third point in the triangle of power of federal government of the United States. While the President and his Administration have executive power, and Congress has legislative power, the Supreme court has judicial power. This means that its principal role is to judge, when asked to do so, about the legality of institutional decisions with regard to federal law (the law of the United States) and the rights of the people. The Court may be asked to give judgment on
The Capitol in Washington
The Supreme Court building, in Washington
   Any citizen of the United States of America can petition  the Supreme Court, but the process is usually long, and a petition must first be approved by  a lower court, either the lower levels in the federal court system (a federal district court and a federal court of appeals) or by a the supreme court of a state, for example by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma or the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
    On averate the Supreme Court receives about 7000 petitions a year, but only about 1% of these are granted.

   It is important to note that the United States Supreme Court does not make up the law *; it interprets the law, meaning that its rulings are, up to a point, subjective (see Roe vs. Wade below).

* There are some very marginal situations, not relating to everyday life, in which the Supreme Court can create the law.

Composition of the US Supreme Court

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    The Supreme Court is made up of nine senior judges, these being the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. The court is named for the Chief Justice, and in 2023 is known as the "Roberts Court" after Chief Justice John Roberts.
    The appointment of judges to the Supreme Court is the prerogative of the President. However since Supreme Court Judges are appointed for life, and remain in place until they die or decide to retire, not all presidents get the opportunity to appoint a judge to the Supreme Court, while others get the opportunity to appoint two or three new Supreme Court judges.
    Appointing judges to the Supreme Court is thus the way for a President of the United States to ensure that his political family remains able to influence policy in the United States long after the end of his presidency. In this respect the appointment of judges to the Supreme court is an eminently political act; Democratic presidents tend to appoint judges known for their liberal interpretion of the law, while Republicans will appoint judges known for their conservative tendencies.
    Donald Trump ensured that the Supreme Court would remain dominated by conservative judges for several years to come, by  appointing three relatively young and notably conservative judges, and as of 2023 the Supreme Court was made up of six judges appointed by Republican presidents, and only three appointed by Democratic presidents.

Roe vs. Wade

The function and nature of judgments by the Supreme Court are most vividly exemplified by the historic Roe vs. Wade (Roe versus Wade) case. In 1973 a pregnant Texas woman, known as Jane Roe, filed a suit against Henry Wade, Dallas County District Attorney, in a Texas federal court, claiming that Texas did not have the constitutional right to prevent her from getting an abortion. The case was referred to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Jane Roe. Abortion was thus legal  throughout the USA for 49 years, until 2022 when a conservative Supreme Court overturned the 1973 ruling, and determined that individual states did have the right to decide whether abortion was legal in their jurisdiction.
    The Roberts Court's 2022 ruling did not make abortion illegal throughout the USA; it just meant that some states, those with very conservative state administrations, could ban abortion in their state. However the overturning of Roe vs. Wade was a polarizing decision, that pointed out the increasing politicization of the Supreme Court, as well as the growing fractures in post-Trumpian America between  "pro-life" conservatives on the one hand, and "pro-choice" liberals on the other.

Se also: How united are the states? The powers of states to govern themselves within the federalm framawork.

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