TFK Explains: The Supreme Court

October 2, 2020
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 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.

Who picks the justices for the Supreme Court?

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.

For how long do Supreme Court justices serve?

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.

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 Ginsburg?

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.

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 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.

Stop and Think! Why do you think TFK editors chose a question-and-answer format for this article? Is this format helpful? Why or why not?

© 2020 TIME USA, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Powered by WordPress.com VIP