USA’s Supreme Court returns to solve tough issues

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

SCOTUS justices
This is a photo of the current US Supreme Court justices. Top row (left to right): Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito, and Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, & Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The USA federal government is a balance of three main powers: the lawmaking Congress (“legislative” branch), the President (“executive” branch), and the Supreme Court (“judicial” branch).

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) began taking a look at the tough decisions it will have to make in the upcoming term. What kinds of issues, exactly, are brought to the attention of the highest court in the land? Well, SCOTUS has the ultimate power to interpret the country’s laws. They’re especially responsible for making sure the Constitution, the supreme law of the USA first adopted on September 17, 1787, is followed.

It’s not always black and white, though, which is why there are 9 people who serve as Supreme Court justices. That way, there won’t ever be a tie when it comes to making a decision. If 5 justices disagree with the other 4 justices, the decision’s made in favor of what the majority 5 believe.

The justices serve for the rest of their lives once they’re approved, unless they choose to leave or are removed after getting in trouble (which has never happened). Because of how long they’re in office, the process for becoming a justice is very intense.

First, a President, according to the Constitution, has the power to nominate (recommend) justices. Then, the Senate (who, along with the House of Representatives, controls Congress) has a Judiciary Committee review their background, interview the candidate, and decide whether they’ll be voted on. After some back-and-forth, the nominated individual either becomes a SCOTUS justice, has their name withdrawn by the president, or is rejected by the Senate. Usually, the Senate is very cautious about rejecting possible justices, and has only done it 12 times in its history.

SCOTUS interior
The inside of the United States Supreme Court building.

The current justices are Sonia SotomayorStephen G. BreyerSamuel A. AlitoElena Kagan, Clarence ThomasAntonin ScaliaChief Justice John G. RobertsAnthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Chief Justice is the head of the USA federal court system, and performs several important jobs like being the spokesperson for the judicial branch, leading the business of the Supreme Court, hearing verbal arguments before the court, and writing the court’s opinion when the Chief is part of the majority vote.

Because SCOTUS has the final say on important matters, by the time a case comes before them, it may have already gone through local and state courts, working its way to the top. If someone doesn’t like what a judge decides at the local level, they can “appeal” their case, which gives them a chance to be heard by a higher court.

There’s quite a few of levels a case can go through, and depending on the issue involved, it may first be heard by specialized courts like the USA Tax Courts or the USA Court of Military Appeals. No matter what, though, if an appeal reaches SCOTUS and they decide to review it, their decision is final – it can only ever be overturned by SCOTUS itself in the future.

Now, for the first time in 30 years, SCOTUS will be deciding whether government meetings should start with prayer or not, since the Constitution says there must be a separation of church and state (which is why some critics believe prayer should not be allowed, as it seems to mix church with state). State, in this case, means government.

They’ll also be reviewing Michigan’s affirmative action (giving minorities like blacks and Hispanics extra consideration for jobs and schools, to increase diversity), how much money people running for political office can accept from individuals (because it’s limited right now to $2,600 to avoid rich people having too much power over government representatives), and they’ll likely have to make decisions about the Affordable Care Act healthcare law that has split Congress recently.

Featured image courtesy of 350z33 on Wikipedia. Video courtesy of Institute for Justice on YouTube.