Overview of the United States Supreme Court

null

The Supreme Court: The Judicial Branch

“I believe that the establishment of the Supreme Court of the United States as a constitutional court … is the most significant single contribution the United States has made to the art of government.”
—Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist

The Supreme Court is the highest form of judicial authority in the United States. Only nine justices are given responsibility over the monumental judgments of the court, which handles matters of constitutional and federal law. Each vote is extremely influential in the structure and application of the American judicial system.

Overview of the United States Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court is the general overseer of the entire American judicial system, and has more authority than any other court in the country. In fact, it was the only court identified by the Constitution in 1787. Much of the Supreme Court’s significance rests in its jurisdiction over both federal and lower-state issues. However, the Court is so significant that it only handles major cases or legal controversies where the law at large is in dispute. This section of the guide clarifies the form and function of the Supreme Court.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • SCOTUS is an acronym you will frequently come across during a Supreme Court search. It means Supreme Court of the United States.
  • If at any point in your research you are confused about the legal terminology you encounter, visit Oyez’s glossary of Supreme Court terms.

Dulcinea's Picks

Back to Top

History of the Supreme Court

Today's cases are considered by looking back upon earlier rulings, and the Court's background is drawn upon to determine virtually every case. The following resources outline the history of the Supreme Court so you can trace the roots of current decisions.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • There is an ongoing debate about loose vs. strict interpretation of the Constitution. “Loose constructionism” supports a flexible Constitution that adapts to a changing society, whereas “strict constructionism” discourages straying from the precise wording of the Constitution. Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were the original proponents of these respective forms of interpretation; to learn more about their debate visit this U.S. Department of State Web site.

Dulcinea's Picks

Back to Top

Supreme Court Cases

The meat of the Court is its cases. Before the development of the Internet, lawyers had to shuffle through an endless pile of reference books to find the exact case they were looking for. Although law students and lawyers still have plenty of research to do, sites with archives to Supreme Court cases have streamlined the process, making it easy for lawyers and laypeople alike to find information quickly—even without the official name or number of a case.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • If you are looking for highly specialized information about Supreme Court cases, there are some professional legal sources you can turn to. They require a paid subscription, however, and are useful mostly to lawyers or judges. These include Westlaw, LexisNexis, and Usscplus.com.

Dulcinea's Picks

Back to Top

Supreme Court Justices

Supreme Court justices are entrusted with so much authority and knowledge that they dedicate their lives to the service of the court. Because justices are nominated for life, a wealth of information can be found on each one—both those who have served, and those currently serving. These sites give you a greater understanding of the lives and personalities that make up the Supreme Court.

Dulcinea's Insight

Dulcinea's Picks

For general information about the justices …
For statistics regarding the justices …
Back to Top

News about the Supreme Court

The daily newspaper is frequently the only way citizens find out about Supreme Court decisions. For the most part, newspapers only report on groundbreaking judgments or popular cases, leaving many of the court’s events and cases unrecognized. These sites help you keep up with the details of the latest Supreme Court decisions as they unfold.

Dulcinea's Insight

  • Many of the Web sites that provide recent Supreme Court headlines also function as forums for discussion and opinion.
  • Some of these Web sites ask for registration but the process is usually free.
Fore more political news, visit findingDulcinea's Web Guide to Political Blogs. Or for legislative news and information, visit our Congress Web Guide.

Dulcinea's Picks

Back to Top

Most Recent Guides