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.
The Supreme Court is the nation’s top court. It decides whether laws follow the United States Constitution and 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, who is the head of 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).
Supreme Court justices mostly rule on cases that were already heard in lower courts around the country. The Supreme Court has the power to undo the decisions of those courts, and its rulings are usually final.
Justices are chosen by the president and voted on by the Senate. The Senate votes on whether to confirm, or approve, the president’s choice. A majority of the Senate’s 100 members must agree to confirm a Supreme Court nominee.
A justice serves for life or until he or she decides to step down. That means whoever is picked next could be involved in decisions for decades to come.
Justices are expected to judge cases based only on the Constitution. But their personal values and beliefs can influence how they interpret it.
At press time, President Donald Trump had not yet nominated a replacement. He has said he will probably nominate a woman. During confirmation hearings, senators will ask questions to determine whether the nominee is right for the job.
Most Republican senators want to vote on a nominee before the November 3 presidential election. Other senators 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 when a seat opened up on the court. The Senate said it would not vote on a nominee until after the election. Trump won. He nominated the next justice soon after taking office.
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