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TFK Explains: The Supreme Court

TOP COURT The U.S. Supreme Court is located in Washington, D.C. It is made up of nine justices, or judges. A new justice will soon be nominated to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. RYAN MCGINNIS—GETTY IMAGES

Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18. TFK explains the importance of the court and looks at how the next justice will be chosen.

What is the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court is the nation’s top court. It decides whether laws follow the United States Constitution. It also explains how laws should be applied. Its decisions become the law of the land.

The court is made up of eight associate justices and one chief justice. The chief justice heads the U.S. government’s judicial branch. The court acts as a check on the powers of Congress (the legislative branch) and the president (the executive branch).

The Supreme Court mostly rules on cases that were already heard in lower courts around the country. It has the power to undo the decisions of those courts. Its rulings are usually final.

Who picks the justices for the Supreme Court?

Justices are chosen by the president. But they must be confirmed, or approved, by the Senate. A majority of the Senate’s 100 members must agree to confirm a nominee.

For how long do Supreme Court justices serve?

A justice may serve for life. That means whoever is picked next could be involved in decisions for decades to come.

How do Supreme Court justices make decisions?

Justices are expected to judge cases based only on the Constitution. But their personal values and beliefs can influence how they interpret it.

Who will replace Justice Ginsburg?

At press time, President Donald Trump had not yet nominated a replacement. He has said he will probably nominate a woman.

When will the Senate vote to confirm a nominee?

Most Republican senators want to vote on a nominee before the November 3 presidential election. Other senators disagree. They say the nomination should be delayed. They think the person who wins the election should nominate the next justice.

That’s what happened in 2016. That year, a seat opened up on the court. The Senate would not vote on a nominee. It said it would wait until after the election. Trump won. He nominated the next justice soon after taking office.

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