The Nine Supreme Court Justices

The judiciary, in the United States and in many parts of the world, is one of the three arms of government the legislature and the executive comprise the other two. As such, the role the judiciary plays cannot be undermined. However, the judicial structure in the United States is a little complicated. The United States practices a dual court system where there is one national court system and separate court systems in each of the fifty-states and other U.S territories (Neubauer  Meinhold, 2007, p. 59). The courts are categorized into either appellate or trial courts. All cases start at the trial courts and may only be referred to the appellate courts upon request by the losing party. The appellate courts main responsibility is thus to ensure that the trial courts correctly applied the law (Neubauer  Meinhold, 2007, p. 59).

Neubauer and Meinhold (2007) refer to the Supreme Court as the appellate court of last resort. This is because any party that is aggrieved by the decision taken by a lower appellate court may request for a review of the decision by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, upon reviewing the facts of the case, will make a ruling which is final and binding to all parties involved. The decisions reached by the Supreme Court are final and effectively cannot be revoked by any authority within the United States. The judges appointed to serve in the Supreme Court are referred to as justices. This paper takes a look at the justices in the Supreme Court as presently constitutedwho they are, what they do, and the important role that they play in the course of their work.

The Supreme Court currently consists of nine justices 8 associate justices and the chief justice (Neubauer  Meinhold, 2007). However, this has not always been the case. A look at the Supreme Court composition at its inception in 1979 will provide an illuminating view of the changes that have occurred in the courts structure. The history of the Supreme Court dates back to the foundations of America as a nation (Harrington, 2008). The American Constitution, ratified in 1789, created the Judiciary as one of the arms of government (Harrington, 2008). Article III in the Constitution provided for the creation of the Supreme Court. Notably, it did not specify the number of judges that would make up the court or what their precise duties would be (Harrington, 2008, p. 9).

Congress came up with a judiciary act which dealt with this loophole by stipulating the number of justices who would make up the Supreme Court and the jurisdiction of the court (Harrington, 2008). Congress through the Judiciary act of 1989 stipulated that the Supreme Court was to be made up of six justices, who would meet twice a year (Harrington, 2008, p. 9). The court held its first session in New York in 1790. Of the six members of the Court, only four were present (Harrington, 2008). The court has been a part of the American democracy since then for more than 250 years. This rich history has earned it legitimacy lending credence to the decisions that it takes.

As noted, the Constitution did not provide for the specific number of justices that would make up the Supreme Court. This has been a prerogative of Congress to set an appropriate number of Justices to serve in the Supreme Court ever since the Congress set the number at six. The numbers have historically changed starting from six when the judicial act was passed. Congress has reviewed the number six times, finally settling on the present number of justices in the year 1869 (Longley, n. d.).

According to Rutkus and associates (2009), the appointment of justices as is an event of major significance in American politics. This partly owes to the fact that the Court exercises tremendous judicial power separate from that exercised by both the legislative and the executive arms of government. The few Justices serving in the Court at any one time also makes such individuals and such appointments very significant. The significance of such appointment is also compounded by the observation that on average, a new Justice joins the Court almost every two years (Rutkus et al., 2009, p. 4).

For instance, the current president of the United States, Barrack Obama, has up to this point only had the opportunity to appoint one Justice to serve in the Supreme Court. The opportunity, as Rutkus et al. (2009) point out, came on May 1, 2009 when then Associate Justice David H. Souter notified the president of his intention to retire from the court when it concludes its current term (p. 4). This led to the appointment of Justice Sotomayor, Sonia M. to replace Souters.

The appointment of the Justices, as Abraham (1994) points out, is provided for in the constitution under Article III which states that the President shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint Judges of the Supreme Court (p. 24). This shows that the decision by the President must be ratified by the Senate for the appointment to take effect.

The Justices once appointed enjoy security of tenure that extends throughout their lives. Such appointments can only be terminated when a judge voluntary steps down, dies in office, or contravenes his terms of engagement. These terms as explicitly stated in the Constitution state that Justices of the Supreme Court hold office during good behaviour (Rutkus et al., 2009, p. 4). This condition, as argued by most authors, (rutkus, Neubaur) implies lifetime appointment. This is because, as Rutkus et al. (2009) points out, only one Justice has ever been impeached (in an episode which occurred in 1804), and he remained in office after being acquitted by the Senate (p. 5).

Current Justices
The nine justices that currently constitute the Supreme Court are named below. A description of their personal lives and their educational background is given to get a better understanding of who they are.
Roberts, John G., Jr.

The 1955 born father of two is the current Chief Justice of the United States (Supreme Court, n. d.). Roberts serves as the 17th Chief Justice of the United States and the youngest to hold the post since John Marshall who became Chief Justice over two hundred years ago (Longley, n. d.). He was nominated by President George W. Bush on July 19, 2005 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Associate Justice Sandra Day O Connor (Longley, n. d.).

Roberts was to be later appointed to the position of Chief Justice following the demise of William H. Rehnquist. As in any appointment that involves Justices, Roberts was confirmed by the U.S Senate by a vote of 78-22 on September 2005. Notably, as Longley (n. d.) points out, Roberts received more Senate votes supporting his nomination (78) than any other nominee for Chief Justice in American history. Roberts served as a clerk to Rehnquist whom he succeeded (Rosen, 2007). Roberts received an A.B. from Harvard College in 1976 and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1979 (Supreme Court).
Stevens, John Paul

Stevens is the longest serving Justice in the current Supreme Court, having been nominated by President Ford and taking office in December 19, 1975 (Supreme Court, n. d.).

Stevens was born in Chicago, Illinois, April 20, 1920. He is married to Maryan Mulholland, and with whom they have four children - John Joseph (deceased), Elizabeth Jane, Kathryn, and Susan Roberta. He received an A.B. from the University of Chicago, and a J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law. (Supreme Court).He received an A.B. from the University of Chicago, and a J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law (Supreme Court, n. d.).

Notably, upon the demise of the then Chief Justice Rehnquist, he is the one who swore in Roberts to the position (Longley, n. d.). This is probably because of his seniority among the other Justices.
Scalia, Antonin.

He was nominated by President Reagan as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat September 26, 1986. He received his A.B. from Georgetown University and the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and his LL.B. from Harvard Law School, and was a Sheldon Fellow of Harvard University from 19601961 (Supreme Court, n. d).

Kennedy, Anthony, M.
He was born in Sacramento, California, July 23, 1936. President Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat February 18, 1988. He received his B.A. from Stanford University and the London School of Economics, and his LL.B. from Harvard Law School (Supreme Court, n. d.).

Thomas, Clarence
He was born in the Pin Point community of Georgia near Savannah June 23, 1948. President Bush nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat October 23, 1991. Clarence attended Conception Seminary and received an A.B., cum laude, from Holy Cross College, and a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1974  (Supreme Court, n. d).

Ginsburg, Ruth Bader
She was born in Brooklyn, New York, March 15, 1933. President Clinton nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and she took her seat August 10, 1993 (Supreme Court, n. d). Until the recent appointment of Sotomayor by President Obama, she served as the only lady justice to the Supreme Court. She received her B.A. from Cornell University, attended Harvard Law School, and received her LL.B. from Columbia Law School (Supreme Court, n. d).

Breyer, Stephen G.
He was born in San Francisco, California, August 15, 1938. President Clinton nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat August 3, 1994 (Supreme Court, n. d). Breyer received an A.B. from Stanford University, a B.A. from Magdalen College, Oxford, and an LL.B. from Harvard Law School (Supreme Court, n. d).

Alito, Samuel A. Jr.
He was born in Trenton, New Jersey, April 1, 1950. President George W. Bush nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat January 31, 2006 (Supreme Court, n. d). Alito served as a law clerk for Leonard I. Garth of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit from 19761977 (Supreme Court, n. d).

Sotomayor, Sonia M.
Born in Bronx, New York, on June 25, 1954, she is the most recent addition to the nine-member team (Supreme Court, n. d). President Barack Obama nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on May 26, 2009, and she assumed this role August 8, 2009 (Supreme Court, n. d).  Sotomayor earned a B.A. in 1976 from Princeton University, graduating summa cum laude and receiving the universitys highest academic honor. In 1979, she earned a J.D. from Yale Law School where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal (Supreme Court, n. d).

What They Do
It would be appropriate to discuss the roles that the Chief Justice plays first, given that he is the leader of the Supreme Court. However, this does not give the Chief Justice a higher ranking to the other associate judges. The Court head is termed as being the primus Inter pares-first among equals (Schwartz, 1997, p. 6). This, as Schwartz observes, follows from the fact that, the Chief Justice cannot impose a decision on the other Justices. Ultimately, the Chief Justice has one vote, just like the other Justices, to contribute in coming up with a decision. Nevertheless, the Chief Justice plays certain critical roles which cannot be undermined.

From the above discussion, the Chief Justice plays the roles performed by all the other Justices. Additionally, where the chief Justice votes with the majority on a certain issue, he has the duty to write the opinion of the court or to delegate this duty to any of the other associate Justices (Longley, n. d.). The Chief Justice administers the oath of office to incoming presidents. The case where Roberts swore in President Obama illustrates this point. Further, the Chief Justice serves as Chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution, and sits on the boards of the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshorn Museum. He also writes an annual report to Congress about the state of the federal court system (Longley, n. d.). The chief Justice also serves as Judge in cases where the president of the United States faces impeachment (Longley, n. d.).

The position is therefore important since the Chief Justice serves as the head of the judicial branch of the federal government (Longley, n. d.). The Chief Justice also heads the meetings of the Supreme Court. This is critical since he sets the agenda for such meetings, directing the other Justices on the area that they are expected to rule on. As Roberts asserts, (as cited in Rosen, 1997), youre always trying to persuade people, as an advocate. This also holds true for the Chief Justice in the Supreme Court meetings. He has to convince the other six judges to support a certain course of action.

In any organization or team, the integrity and the success of any such organization depends on the leader. Whether true or false the Chief Justice ultimately carries the buck for the success or failure of the Supreme Court. The other justices remain inconspicuous in the whole scenario. For instance, the greatest Chief Justice who ever served in the Supreme Court is reputed to be Marshall, who served as chief justice from 1801 to 1835 (Rosen, 1997, p. 8). Any Chief Justice has the duty to make sure that the integrity of the court is preserved. This entails everything from ensuring that unanimity is achieved in the decisions the court takes to avoiding angry quarrels and exchange of words between the justices (Rosen, 1997). Generally, a situation where an issue is decided by a majority vote of 7-2 would be preferred to the same issue being decided by a slim majority of 5-4. This is what unanimity entails.

The Justices (including the Chief Justices) principle role is to vote and make decisions on the issues that are brought before the court. The issues that are brought before the court on the other hand depend on the Jurisdiction of the court. Generally, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as presented by the constitution extends to

All Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the Supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make (Supreme Court, n. d.).

Additionally, the Supreme Court has judicial review powers. This refers to the power of the Supreme Court to pass upon the constitutionality of acts of congress (Corwin, 1999, p. 1). The Supreme Court also prescribes rules of procedure to be followed by the lower courts of the United States (Supreme Court, n. d.).

The main duty of the justices is to deliberate on cases, factoring in the necessary information and come up with individual decision on the matter at hand. The information may be obtained from various sources. Justices have been known to accept briefs from outside actors such as interest groups, the media, public opinion and congress and the executive branch (Samuel, 2004, p. 2). This is especially useful when they have to decide on highly controversial issues or when a lot of information pertaining to the issue is required, some of which may not be available to the Justices.

The Justices operate, as a number of them have said, as nine little law firms (Schwartz, 1997, p. 6). This refers to the unanimous manner through which the Justices make decisions. Each Justice considers the matter at hand and based on his or her own judgment forms an opinion on the issue. The opinion will be expressed before the other Justices in subsequent meetings (Schwartz, 1997). Despite of them being seemingly independent, the nine Justices must work together for the Court to be able to decide a case and, more important, to explain the decision that has been reached (Schwartz, 1997, p. 6).

The role that is played by the Associate Justices can be summarized by use of an analogy. Schwartz (1997) notes that just as the most inspiriting general must have troops to follow his lead, even under a strong Chief Justice, the Associate Justices play a pivotal part (p. 155). Schwartz (1997) asserts that Justices can take up the leadership role that is the Chief Justice usually holds. A Justice can therefore lead the other Justices in attaining consensus on an issue. This is true because at times the decision of the Chief Justice may differ from that of the majority. In such cases, an Associate Justice may take up the role of championing a certain course of action. In such a case, the member is responsible for writing the opinion of the court if the decision is passed. This underlines the assertion that the nine members are in reality, equals.

The importance of the Chief Justice and the associate judges can effectively be summarized by the oath of office that they take. It states that

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God. (Longley n. d.).

The Justices thus play a critical role in ensuring that the Constitution is jealously guarded, and that they dispense justice to all without fear.

The people who are nominated to the position of Justices should therefore possess certain characteristics. Some of these include exceptional education background with outstanding legal qualifications and demonstrated excellence in their careers (Harrington, 2008). This is clearly evident from the professional and educational backgrounds of the current Justices of the Supreme Court (highlighted in this paper). As Harrington points out, the ideals of integrity and impartiality in a nominee are also critical. The potential Justices should also have judicial temperament. This term fundamentally has to do with a character that is unbiased, unbiased, neutral, considerate yet firm, and dedicated to a process, not a result (Harrington, 2008, p. 13). These qualities are desirable so that the Justices can perform their duties well.


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