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The Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court

At the apex of our federal court system stands the United States Supreme Court. It stands as the ultimate authority in constitutional interpretation and its decision can be changed only by a constitutional amendment. Two documents are responsible for its creation which is the Constitution, which explicitly creates the Supreme Court, and the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789. The Supreme Court is the only court named in the constitution laying out the Courts basic jurisdiction, identifying the mode of selection and tenure for justices. Under Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution provides that "[t]he judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." Article III establishes the Court as the chief authority of the judicial branch making it equal to the executive and legislative branches (Lieberman, 2003, p 3).

The Judiciary Act of 1789 not only set up the federal court system and used the Court’s jurisdiction under the Constitution as a basis for granting it broad powers that are recognized everywhere. According to Abraham (1983), “There is no gainsaying the importance and the majesty of the most powerful of courts, not only in the United States, but the entire free world (p. 19).” The French political observer Alexis de Tocqueville noted the uniqueness of the Supreme Courts in the history of nations and jurisprudence. He stated, “The representative system of government has been adopted in several states of Europe, but I am unaware that any nation of the globe has hitherto organized judicial power in the same manner as the Americans. . . . A more imposing judicial power was never constituted by any people (qtd in Abraham, 1983, p. 27).

Issues as the number of justices, their qualifications and their duties have been settled by law and tradition rather than being specified in the Constitution (Baum, 1992, p. 13). The Courts composition was addressed in the Judiciary Act of 1789 under Section 1 stating “That the Supreme Court of the United States shall consist of a chief justice and five associate justices. . . “. The number of justices changed several times during the Courts first century. A number of changes were to the number of justices after the Judiciary Act of 1789 in part to accommodate the justices’ duties in...

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...embers are crucial in affecting the interpretations of the Constitution and important amendments relevant to citizens (Champion, 2003, p. 203).

References

Abraham, H. (1983). The Judiciary: The Supreme Court in the Governmental Process (6th ed).

Newton, MA: Allyn and Bacon Inc.

Baum, L. (1992). The Supreme Court. (4th ed). Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc.

Champion, D. (2003). Administration of Criminal Justice: Structure, Function and Process. New

Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Lieberman, J. Supreme Court of the United States. Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia

2003. Retrieved 22 September from the World Wide Web: http://encarta.msn.com

Supreme Court Cases. Retrieved 17 September 2003 from the World Wide Web:

http://www.findlaw.com/casecode/index.html

The History of the Supreme Court. Retrieved 12 September 2003 from the World Wide Web:

http://supreme.lp.findlaw.com/supremecourt/supcthist.html

Van Dervort, T. (2000). American Law and the Legal System: Equal Justice under the Law. (2nd

ed). Albany, NY: West Legal Studies

Zalman, M. (2002). Criminal Procedure: Constitution and Society. (3rd ed). New Jersey: Prentice

Hall.
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