News / USA

US Supreme Court Opens Session With New Lineup

U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court
TEXT SIZE - +
Elizabeth Lee

The U.S. Supreme Court started a new session this week, marking the 75th anniversary of the high court in Washington. The court is made up of nine justices, each appointed by a president, then confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Legal experts say the high court has evolved over the years even as it continues to take up cases that present complex constitutional issues.

Located in the heart of Washington is the most powerful court of justice in the United States. In fact, Law Professor Jeffrey Rosen at The George Washington University points out, it is unique among the constitutional courts of the world.

"It has great power and the most important power is the ability to strike down laws passed by Congress and State Legislatures if the justices feel they violate the U.S. Constitution," said Professor Rosen.

First time in history

This year, for the first time in the history of the United States, three of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are women.

In the past five years, there have been four new justices appointed to the court.

Affect personal dynamics

Professor Rosen says that may affect the personal dynamics on the court, but probably not its recent trend toward becoming more conservative.

What's new, he says, is that the court may now be perceived as being partisan.

"This is the first time that all the liberals are democratic appointees and all the five conservatives are Republican appointees," Rosen added. "So there is a danger that the court will be perceived as political. I think the justices themselves would reject that claim. They would feel that despite their clear ideological and philosophical differences, no one would ever cast a vote purely for political reasons."

Decisions without political pressure

The Court is supposed to be insulated from partisanship. The Constitution gives Supreme Court justices lifetime appointments so they can make decisions without political pressure. But the Supreme Court has still at times been accused of playing politics. In 2000, there was no clear winner in the Presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush.  In a five to four vote, the court sided with Bush  –  a decision that put him in the White House.

"After the Bush Vs Gore decision public confidence in the court among democrats plummeted to something like 30 or 40 percent but it soared among Republicans to 70 or 80 percent," he said. "Nevertheless a year later the numbers were pretty well equal as they were before the decision."

The Supreme Court is constantly tested by high-profile cases. Many of the most contentious involve the free speech provisions of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

Right to protest

One such case this year questions whether members of a church have a right to protest with offensive signs at a U.S. Marine's funeral.

Charles Haynes heads the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum. He says "If we allow the government to decide what's offensive speech, and what isn't offensive then I think it limits the rights of all of us to express what we believe."

Legal experts also expect cases involving such social issues as health care reform and same-sex marriage to end up in the Supreme Court.

Judges' ideological beliefs

Jeff Rosen says the judges' ideological beliefs are most likely the dominant factor when they consider a case. But he says the Court still occupies a position of public confidence and legitimacy.

"Although its decision are often hotly debated, people criticize them intensely. There still is a feel that the court ultimately is deciding things based on philosophy rather than pure partisanship and that its decisions have to be obeyed even when you disagree with them"

Rosen says one reason the court is respected by Americans – even when they disagree with its decisions - is that when the justices rule on an issue, they also have to explain why.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid