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Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the U.S. judicial system.

Recent Controversies

2010 Decision in Citizens United

In a landmark 5-4 decision announced on January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court's so-called "conservative bloc" overturned a century of established election law after it ruled that corporations could spend as much as they wanted to sway voters in federal elections. The five justices ruled that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals and therefore the government cannot stop corporations from spending to elect their favorite candidates. The ruling was the result of the case Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission [1] For more information about this case and the reaction, please see our special page on corporate "rights"

Politics and the Supreme Court

In November 2004, The Hill reported on "a sophisticated, multipronged plan," being developed by Senate Republicans, "to confirm President Bush’s expected nomination to replace ailing Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist." The plan was described as similar to a 2003 plan "drafted by Manuel Miranda, who was Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) senior aide on judicial strategy." The 2004 plan is headed by Bill Wichterman, who oversees coalition outreach and judicial confirmation planning for Frist. [1]

The plan reportedly includes "pre-emptive" press releases, issued "as soon as Bush nominated a justice," to "deflect liberal efforts to define the nominee." Senate Republicans "would speak publicly to counter expected negative coverage by newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post." Non-governmental conservative groups and business groups are integral to the plan: [2]

Organizations such as Coalition for a Fair Judiciary would handle grassroots work while The Federalist Society would provide substantive arguments for use in Senate and media debates. The business community would be expected to fund the communications campaign.

Liberal groups were also reported to be readying for the nomination. A wide coalition, "led by People for the American Way and the Alliance for Justice are preparing a multimillion-dollar effort to publicize the record of whomever Bush taps for the high court," according to The Hill. [3]

Who Currently Serves on the Court and What Is Their Background

Supreme Court Justices [4]

  • Alito, Samuel A., Jr.: Nominated by President George W. Bush as Associate Justice. As a solicitor general in the Reagan administration, Alito played a pivotal role in devising legal strategy to erode abortion rights set out under Roe v. Wade; In a 1985 legal memo to the Reagan administration, he described two pending Supreme Court cases as: "opportunity to advance the goals of overruling Roe v. Wade and, in the meantime, of mitigating its effects." [[5]]. Furthermore, Alito has referred to Roe as legal precedent but refuses to call it "settled law." [[6]]. He publicly spoke out against televising Supreme Court proceedings. [[7]]. Alito has been an open and active member of the Federalist Society. [[8]]. The Federalist Society effectively mobilized to aid in Justice Alito's confirmation on the bench as well. [[9]]. Justice Alito has expressed a desire to extend the power of the President beyond that of current constitutional grant of power. He advocated this theory of a unitary executive while on the federal appeals bench for the Third Circuit. [[10]]. "The Constitution "makes the president the head of the executive branch, but it does more than that," Judge Alito said in a speech to the Federalist Society at Washington's Mayflower Hotel. "The president has not just some executive powers, but the executive power -- the whole thing." [[11]].
  • Breyer, Stephen [12][13]: Nominated by President William Jefferson Clinton as Justice, August 3, 1994. He tends to vote with the liberal-leaning justices including Ruth Bader Ginsburg. [[14]]; Breyer describes his interpretation of the Constitution as flexible and adaptive. He recently wrote a book titled: "Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution." [[15]]. In the Supreme Court's decision striking down schools' ability to use race in the consideration of assigning students, Justice Breyer stated: "It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much." [[16]]
  • Ginsburg, Ruth Bader [17]: Nominated by President William Jefferson Clinton as Associate Justice; took oath of office August 10, 1993. As a director of the ACLU, Ginsburg brought several cases before the Court that helped to establish constitutional protections against sex discrimination. [[18]]. As a champion of women's rights, Justice Ginsburg vehemently read her dissent from the bench in the Lilly Ledbetter case against Goodyear Tire; [[19]]. She has publicly endorsed a woman's right to choose abortion and has suggested that an equal rights amendment be added to the Constitution for symbolic value. [[20]]. She has stated: "This {abortion} is something central to a woman's life, to her dignity. It's a decision that she must make for herself. And when government controls that decision for her, she's being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices." [[21]].
  • Kennedy, Anthony McLeod [22][23]: Nominated by President Ronald Reagan as Associate Justice; took oath of office February 18, 1988. In Citizens United v. FEC, Kennedy wrote the majority opinion striking down a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform Act and ruled that the government may not ban political spending in by corporations in political campaigns. [[24]]. With 4 strong conservative justices and 4 strong liberal justices, Justice Kennedy is often the tie-breaking vote in many decisions. In a majority of ties, Kennedy has aligned himself with the conservative bloc of the Court since the appointment of Justice Roberts. [[25]].
  • Roberts, John G. Jr.: Nominated by President George W. Bush as Chief Justice. At the age of 50, Justice Roberts was the youngest Chief Justice sworn in since John Marshall. His relatively young age suggest that he has the potential to influence the Court for many years. [[26]]. While on the bench, Roberts has sided with right-wing ideology: "In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff." [[27]]. Embracing so-called "conservatism," Chief Justice Roberts continues to serve the interests of the "contemporary Republican Party." [[28]]. More important, Chief Justice Roberts has been a longtime member of the conservative Federalist Society. [[29]]. He once served on the steering committee of the Washington Chapter of the Federalist Society. [[30]]. During his confirmation hearing, Roberts claimed he had no memory of becoming a member of the Federalist Society. [[31]].
  • Scalia, Antonin: Nominated by President Ronald Reagan; took oath of office September 25, 1986. [[32]]. Justice Scalia has stated that "Roe v. Wade was decided wrongly and should be overturned." [[33]]. In Lawrence v. Texas, a highly controversial case regarding a Texas anti-sodomy law criminalizing intimate conduct between two people of the same sex, Scalia was one of two dissenting justices seeking to uphold the Texas statute. [[34]].
  • Sotomayor, Sonia: Nominated by President Barack Obama; took oath of office August 8 as the first Latina justice on the Court. [[35]]; She caused controversy when her confirmation hearing led to the discovery of a speech made as an appeals court judge. She stated that: "the ethnicity and sex of a judge may and will make a difference in our judging." [[36]]
  • Stevens, John Paul [37][38]: Nominated by President Gerald R. Ford as Associate Justice, December 1, 1975; confirmed by the U.S. Senate December 17, 1975, and took oath of office December 19, 1975.
  • Thomas, Clarence [39][40]: Nominated by President George H.W. Bush as Associate Justice; took oath of office October 23, 1991. "Aligning himself with the court's conservative majority, Thomas has supported decisions that scaled back affirmative action, allowed use of some public money to send students to parochial schools and restricted the creation of election districts intended to elevate minorities." [[41]]. Although Justice Thomas voted with the majority to narrowly uphold the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he stated in a dissent in this case that he would strike down the entire Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional. [[42]].

Former Supreme Court Justices

  • O'Connor, Sandra Day: Nominated by President Ronald Reagan as Associate Justice, July 7, 1981; confirmed by the U. S. Senate September 22, 1981, and took oath of office on September 25, 1981. O'Connor was the first female on "the high court". On July 1, 2005, O'Connor announced in a letter to President Bush that she would retire "effective upon the nomination and confirmation of my successor." Replaced by Samuel A. Alito, Jr.
  • Rehnquist, William H.: Nominated by President Richard M. Nixon as Associate Justice, October 21, 1971, and was sworn in on January 7, 1972. Rehnquist was nominated Chief Justice of the United States by President Ronald Reagan on June 17, 1986, and was sworn in on September 26, 1986. Replaced by John G. Roberts, Jr.

Basic Information on the Constitution's Advice and Consent Process

"The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and such number of Associate Justices as may be fixed by Congress. The number of Associate Justices is currently fixed at eight (28 U. S. C. §1). Power to nominate the Justices is vested in the President of the United States, and appointments are made with the advice and consent of the Senate. Article III, §1, of the Constitution further provides that '[t]he Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.'"[43]

Contact Information

One First Street, NE,
Washington, DC 20543
Phone: 202-479-3211

External links

Background

Notable Articles & Commentary

  • Robin Toner and Neil A. Lewis, "Lobbying Starts as Groups Foresee Supreme Court Vacancy," The New York Times, June 8, 2003. "Interest groups on the left and the right are beginning full-scale political campaigns -- including fund-raising, advertising and major research -- to prepare for what many expect to be a Supreme Court vacancy in the next several weeks.... While none of the justices have said they plan to retire, any decision would traditionally be announced at the end of the court's term in late June.... Both conservatives and liberals say the time is right for a change in at least one and perhaps two seats, given the age of several justices and the general recognition that this is President Bush's last chance to name a justice before the presidential campaign begins in earnest."
  • Op-Ed: "Justice Kennedy Speaks Out," The New York Times, August 12, 2003: "We hope that both the members of Congress and the Bush administration were paying attention last weekend when Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a tough-on-crime Reagan appointee, decried harsh and inflexible sentencing policies. Justice Kennedy was speaking for legal experts from across the political spectrum when he said the current rules misspent America's criminal justice resources by locking up people for irrationally long amounts of time."
  • Linda Greenhouse, "Supreme Court's Docket Includes 48 New Cases," New York Times, October 6, 2003: "Because the first Monday in October coincides with Yom Kippur, the court will issue orders but will not begin hearing arguments until Tuesday. When all nine justices take the bench then, the public will be treated to the rare sight of a court entering its 10th term without turnover, the longest stretch of Supreme Court stability since the 12-year interval from 1811 to 1823."
  • Op-Ed: "The Supreme Court Returns," New York Times, October 6, 2003.
  • Joan Biskupic, "Major cases up for review by Supreme Court," USA TODAY, October 6, 2003.
  • Gina Holland, "Supreme Court Intervenes in Kidnap Case," Associated Press (Yahoo!), December 1, 2003: "The Supreme Court said Monday it would decide if federal agents can sneak into foreign countries to arrest suspected criminals and bring them to America for trial, a case that tests the reach of the government's terrorism-fighting powers. .. The Bush administration said covert kidnappings of suspects overseas are rare, but the government needs that authority."
  • Op-Ed "Church, State and Education," New York Times, December 2, 2003.
  • "Supreme Court issues wake-up call," National Catholic Reporter, July 16, 2004.
  • Alexander Bolton, "Getting Ready for Court Fight," The Hill, December 1, 2004.
  • Christopher Lee, "Hill Veterans Light the Way for Nominee: 'Sherpas' Akin to Personal Coaches", Washington Post, September 9, 2005.
  • Robert Barnes, "A Renewed Call to Televise High Court," Washington Post, February 12, 2007.

References

  1. David G. Savage Supreme Court OKs unlimited corporate spending on elections Los Angeles Times/U.S. and World, January 22, 2010