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The highest court in the USA, established by Article 3 of the US Constitution. Its members are appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Early in its history, under the guidance of Chief Justice John Marshall (1801–35), it established its right to judge whether bills passed by Congress or by state legislatures conform to the provisions of the constitution, with power to declare them unconstitutional if they do not. During the early nineteenth century it also established itself as the highest Court of Appeal.

Early history (up to 2000)

The decisions of the court have played a central role in the history of the USA, not only balancing the relationships between executive and legislature, and between states and the federal government, but also contributing to the evolution of social, economic, and legal policies. The commerce clause of the constitution has enabled it powerfully to influence the economy by invalidation of any state legislation deemed likely to burden interstate commerce ‘unduly’. Moreover, its interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the constitution has enabled racial discrimination steadily to be eliminated. Justices hold office ‘during good behavior’, that is, they are not forced to retire as long as they can perform their duties. In 1937 a major confrontation between F. D. Roosevelt and the court erupted, as Roosevelt sought to appoint more liberal justices to counterbalance its conservative composition of old conservative justices, and to expand the court from nine to fifteen members. He was defeated in this endeavour, though since then justices have been entitled to retire at 70.

Even though the Justices are, on the whole, appointed by the President along political lines, this has not always been mirrored in the court's decisions. The main reason for this was that a commitment to legal principles, such as a commitment to states' rights or the upholding of strict constitutionalism, mirrored a left‐right political agenda only imperfectly. Nevertheless, after a series of new appointments by Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush, the Supreme Court did assume a more right‐wing position.

Contemporary history (since 2000)

With Chief Justice Rehnquist presiding, the Court made one of its most controversial rulings by determining the Bush election victory in Bush v. Gore (December 2000). In particular, it ruled that the Florida Supreme Court's decision to extend the time limits for the recount of votes was unconstitutional. The 5:4 decision reflected the court's political composition. It constituted a rare direct intervention in the political process, and in the electoral organization of a state. The ruling was particularly problematic as the Court had a direct interest in this issue because of the President's decisive influence on the composition of the Court. At the same time, the Court's growing conservatism did not prevent it from asserting its rights against the executive, notably when it ruled in 2004 that detainees in Guantanamo Bay did have access to US Courts to challenge their detention.http://www.supremecourtus.govThe home page of the Supreme Court.

Subjects: United States History — Law.


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