Day 10: Learn about the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will be a focus this year, because it has a vacancy.

DAY 10 ACTION: Learn about the Supreme Court and memorize the names of the 8 current Justices!


The United States Supreme Court completed construction in 1935. Before then, Congress loaned space to the Supreme Court in the Capitol Building. Library of Congress.

The Supreme Court is the highest federal court in the US. The Supreme Court considers issues of federal law, whether the cases begin in federal or state court, and is the ultimate interpreter of the U.S. Constitution.

Usually, cases are first brought in lower state or federal courts and then appealed to the Supreme Court. Appeals are not automatic; the Supreme Court can decide whether it wants to hear them. However, if one state sues another (as when New Jersey sued New York over ownership of Ellis Island) or if the United States sues a state, these cases go directly to the Supreme Court.

** Have 36 minutes? Listen to this NPR podcast about how Supreme Court’s rise, from a weak court sitting in the basement of the Capitol to the powerful institution it is today. And see if their mnemonic device works for you! **

The Supreme Court was established under Article III of the Constitution. The article has been amended once, by the 11th Amendment. Article III doesn’t provide a whole lot of detail about how federal courts should work. For instance, the Constitution does not say how many Supreme Court justices there should be. Instead, Congress decides this through law.

The number of Justices by law has changed at least 6 times. But since 1869, the Supreme Court has had one Chief Justice and 8 associate Justices. Under Article II of the Constitution, the Justices are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. All Justices are appointed for a life term, or until they retire or are removed. These brief bios include the three living but retired Supreme Court justices.

John Roberts is the Chief Justice. Since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, there are only seven Associate Justices, for a total of eight. An even number of Justices can result in a tie vote, which automatically upholds the lower court decision but does not make binding law for future cases. The outcome in some cases was affected by having only 8 Justices in 2016.

President Trump has said he will announce his Supreme Court nominee on Thursday, February 2. The Justices are key to preserving our democracy and safeguarding our constitutional rights – so it’s important to know who they are!

Today’s action: Click the links in this email to learn about the Supreme Court. Then come up with a good mnemonic device to remember the Justices’ names! They can be associations, or a sentence of words starting with the first letter in each Justice’s last name (remember My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies?). Post your best ideas in the comments or on Facebook, tweet us on Twitter @misciendias, or by email, misciendias@gmail.com!!

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