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Abortion, Encyclopedia Entry

Beginning in the mid-1800s, many states enacted laws prohibiting abortion, mainly to protect women from unsafe medical procedures. During the 1960s a movement grew to relax the . . .

Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Encyclopedia Entry

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts performs support functions for the federal court system. The office prepares and submits to Congress the budget and legislative age . . .

Affirmative Action, Encyclopedia Entry

The term affirmative action describes programs that give special consideration or preference to members of previously disadvantaged groups, most commonly African Americans, in . . .

Aliens, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court has ruled that aliens—citizens of foreign countries residing in the United States—are entitled under the Fourteenth Amendment to equal protection . . .

Amending Process, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution gives the Supreme Court no specific role in proposing or ratifying constitutional amendments. The Court's few substantive rulings on the amending process have . . .

American Bar Association, Encyclopedia Entry

The American Bar Association (ABA) has played a part since 1956 in evaluating the legal and intellectual qualifications of candidates for Supreme Court vacancies and other fede . . .

Amicus Curiae, Encyclopedia Entry

The term amicus curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”) denotes a person or organization who volunteers or is invited to take part in matters before a court, but w . . .

Antitrust, Encyclopedia Entry

The industrial growth of the United States in the late nineteenth century brought with it the creation of “combinations” or “trusts” in many areas of bu . . .

Appeal, Encyclopedia Entry

An appeal is a legal proceeding to ask a higher court to review or modify a lower court decision. The party filing an appeal is called the appellant, the opposing party the appellee. . . .

Appointment and Removal Power, Encyclopedia Entry

The president's power to appoint and remove subordinate officials complements his power to manage the executive branch. The Constitution, however, limits the president's power . . .

Arguments, Encyclopedia Entry

After the Supreme Court has agreed to review a specific case, the case is placed on the argument calendar. The justices hear oral argument on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday for . . .

Arms, Right to Bear, Encyclopedia Entry

The Second Amendment states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infri . . .

Arrests, Encyclopedia Entry

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Since 1806 this provision has been construed to apply to arrests; in recent . . .

Assembly, Freedom of, Encyclopedia Entry

The First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits any law “abridging … the right of the people to peaceably assemble.” Along with the twin right of free speec . . .

Assigning Opinions, Encyclopedia Entry

After the justices have voted on a case, a justice who voted with the majority is assigned to write the majority opinion, or the opinion of the Court. If the chief justice has . . .

Association, Freedom of, Encyclopedia Entry

The right of an individual to associate with others who share similar beliefs is not explicitly granted by the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Instead the Supreme Court has . . .

Attainder, Bill of, Encyclopedia Entry

A bill of attainder is a legislative act that inflicts punishment on designated individuals without judicial trial. In the eighteenth century this power was abused to punish po . . .

Attorney General, Encyclopedia Entry

The attorney general of the United States is the nation's chief legal officer, representing the federal government's interests in law courts throughout the nation. The attorney . . .

Background of Justices, Encyclopedia Entry

In its more than two hundred years the Supreme Court has had only 112 members, making it one of the most exclusive as well as enduring of the world's governing bodies. All but four of the justices hav . . .

Bail, Encyclopedia Entry

Bail is money or property pledged by an accused person to guarantee his or her appearance at trial. The Eighth Amendment states, “Excessive bail shall not be required.” The Supreme Court i . . .

Baker v. Carr, Encyclopedia Entry

In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts may hear challenges to a state legislature's failure to realign seats to take account of changing population. This decision, Baker v. Carr, set the . . .

Bar of the Supreme Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The lawyers who argue before the Supreme Court do not work for the Court, but without them the Court would have no work. These lawyers counsel the clients, file the petitions, write the briefs, and ar . . .

Bill of Rights, Encyclopedia Entry

The Bill of Rights consists of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. The Bill of Rights fulfilled a campaign pledge made by supporters of the new charter during the debate over ratification in . . .

Brief, Encyclopedia Entry

A brief is the document in which an attorney sets out the facts and legal arguments in support of the position of the attorney's client or clients in the case. Briefs in Supreme Court cases must be fi . . .

Brown v. Board of Education, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court in 1954 made a historic decision to prohibit racial segregation in public schools. The ruling involved five cases in which parents of black children had a . . .

Bush v. Gore, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court dramatically intervened to resolve the closely contested 2000 presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. By a 5–4 vote, the Court blocked a r . . .

Busing, Encyclopedia Entry

The use of court-ordered busing to help achieve school desegregation was approved by the Supreme Court in 1971. The ruling aroused strong opposition from many whites and a . . .

Campaigns and Elections, Encyclopedia Entry

Laws regulating political campaigns and elections may involve First Amendment rights to free speech and political association. (See speech, freedom of; . . .

Capital Punishment, Encyclopedia Entry

In a stunning decision, the Supreme Court in 1972 effectively nullified all existing death sentences in the United States. The Court ruled that capital punishment, as permitted . . .

Case Law, Encyclopedia Entry

Case law is the law as found in previous cases—that is, the body of decisions written and developed by judges in the course of ruling on particular cases. Case law is a f . . .

Case or Controversy Rule, Encyclopedia Entry

The single most basic restriction on the work of the federal courts is the requirement that they decide only “cases or controversies.” . . .

Certiorari, Encyclopedia Entry

A writ of certiorari is an order from a higher court directing a lower court to transmit the record of a case for review in the higher court. The vast majority of cases that re . . .

Chief Justice, Encyclopedia Entry

The office of chief justice of the United States has evolved from a position of little esteem in the Supreme Court's first decade into one of great prestige, influence, and res . . .

Child Labor, Encyclopedia Entry

Until the twentieth century, children were often put to work at a young age. The abolition of child labor was a major goal of social reformers in the early decades of the twent . . .

Circuit Riding, Encyclopedia Entry

Almost from the beginning of the Supreme Court's history, justices complained that their workload was too heavy. (See workload of the court .) For the first hund . . .

Citizenship, Encyclopedia Entry

Citizenship was described by Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1958 as “man's basic right for it is nothing less than the right to have rights.” Still, the United States . . .

Civil Liberties, Encyclopedia Entry

Civil liberties are claims of right that a citizen may assert against the government. For much of its early history, the Supreme Court had little to say about the subject of in . . .

Civil Rights, Encyclopedia Entry

Civil rights refers to the concept of being free from discrimination when engaging in public activities, such as voting, or participating in othe . . .

Civil War Amendments, Encyclopedia Entry

After the Civil War, Congress passed, and the states approved, three constitutional amendments that collectively appeared to guarantee blacks equal rights under the law. Over t . . .

Class Action, Encyclopedia Entry

A class action is a suit brought in a state or federal court by several individuals on behalf of a larger group of people who have the same legal interest. Class actions have s . . .

Clerk of the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The clerk of the Court helps keep the Supreme Court's judicial business running smoothly. The clerk and the clerk's staff manage all of the documents connected with the cases b . . .

Clerks, Encyclopedia Entry

Law clerks play a vital but largely unseen role in the Court's work. Working in individual chambers, typically for one year, law clerks assist the justices by screening cases f . . .

Comity, Encyclopedia Entry

Comity refers to the deference that one court system gives to another in ruling on matters of overlapping jurisdiction . It is intended to promote cooperation an . . .

Commerce power, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution grants Congress the power to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States” (Article I, section 8, clause 3). In 1824 the S . . .

Common Law, Encyclopedia Entry

Common law refers to the collection of principles and rules—particularly those drawn from early, uncodified English law—that derive their authority from long usage . . .

Communism, Encyclopedia Entry

In the twentieth century, global communism was believed to present a dual threat to the United States, both internal and external. The spread of communist regimes after World W . . .

Concurring Opinions, Encyclopedia Entry

A justice who agrees with the result and the essential reasoning of the majority opinion may write a separate, concurring opinion to clarify or elaborate on his or her views of . . .

Conferences, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court justices grant or deny review and decide cases in meetings known as conferences. Conferences are scheduled for Wednesday afternoons and Fridays during weeks i . . .

Confessions, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court has said that confessions rank “among the most effectual proofs in the law.” The importance of confessions, however, entails a risk that police ma . . .

Confirmation Process, Encyclopedia Entry

The televised confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees of the late twentieth century represent a dramatic change from the days when the Senate barred reporters from con . . .

Congress and the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

Congress and the Supreme Court are separate but interdependent branches of the federal government. The Supreme Court defines the limits of congressional authority, while Congre . . .

Congressional Immunity, Encyclopedia Entry

The concept of legislators having some immunity from legal actions was well established in England and the American colonies before the Revolution. To provide that protection, . . .

Constitutional Law, Encyclopedia Entry

The U.S. Constitution was, at the time of its ratification in 1789, a unique document. Before that time the term constitution had been used in other countries to refer simply t . . .

Contempt of Court, Encyclopedia Entry

To maintain decorum within the courtroom and to enforce obedience to its orders, courts possess the inherent power to punish people for contempt. A judge may punish individuals . . .

Contract Clause, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution prohibits the states—but not the federal government—from passing any law “impairing the obligation of contracts” (Article I, section 10 . . .

Cost of Supreme Court, Encyclopedia Entry

Compared to Congress and the president, the Supreme Court seems to operate on a shoestring. In fiscal year 2011, for example, Congress appropriated $75.6 million for the Court . . .

Counsel, Right to Legal, Encyclopedia Entry

The Sixth Amendment states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” For most of . . .

Counselor to the Chief Justice, Encyclopedia Entry

In addition to strictly judicial functions, the chief justice of the United States is responsible for a complex set of administrative duties. Since 1972 an administrative assis . . .

Courts, Lower, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court sits at the top of a three-tiered federal judicial system that also comprises ninety-four trial-level courts called U.S. district courts and thirteen inter . . .

Courts, Powers of, Encyclopedia Entry

Judicial power was defined by Justice Samuel F. Miller in the late nineteenth century as “the power of a court to decide and pronounce a judgment and carry it into effect . . .

Criminal Law and Procedure, Encyclopedia Entry

Criminal law in the United States provides several protections for the rights of the accused that distinguish the U.S. legal system from those of most other countries. Substant . . .

Cruel and Unusual Punishment, Encyclopedia Entry

The Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments,” but does not specify what is cruel and unusual. The Supreme Court has said that punishments must be . . .

Curator's Office, Encyclopedia Entry

The office of the curator of the Supreme Court cares for the Court's historical papers and possessions, develops exhibits concerning the Court, offers educational programs for . . .

Currency Powers, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution authorizes Congress to “coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures” (Article I, sect . . .

De Facto, De Jure, Encyclopedia Entry

De facto and de jure are old legal terms meaning, respectively, “in fact” and “in law.” In the United States, the terms have come to be used frequently in the conte . . .

Decision Days, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court has changed its schedule for issuing decisions over time. In the Court's early years, decisions were announced whenever they were ready. There was no formal or informal schedule for . . .

Defendant, Encyclopedia Entry

A defendant is the party against whom a civil or criminal case is brought. In criminal cases, the Constitution guarantees defendants an array of procedural rights. Supreme Court decisions have been cr . . .

Disability Rights, Encyclopedia Entry

Congress in 1990 passed landmark legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, or public accommodations against individuals with ph . . .

Discrimination, Encyclopedia Entry

In the context of civil rights , discrimination refers to laws, government policies, or private actions that deny or limit privileges, benefits, or opportunities to individu . . .

Dissenting Opinions, Encyclopedia Entry

A justice who disagrees with the result that a majority of the Court has reached in a particular case may issue a dissenting opinion. Unlike the author of the majority opinion, a dissenting justice ma . . .

Diversity Jurisdiction, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution gives federal courts jurisdiction over cases “between citizens of different states.” In passing the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress concurred w . . .

Docket, Encyclopedia Entry

Each year the Supreme Court is asked to review several thousand cases but accepts only a small number. A total of 7,857 new cases were filed in the 2010–2011 term, but the justices granted revie . . .

Double jeopardy, Encyclopedia Entry

The Fifth Amendment provides that no person “shall … be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” The Supreme Court has held that this guarantee prot . . .

Due Process, Encyclopedia Entry

Due process has been called the most important term in American constitutional law. It received an initial narrow interpretation by the Supreme Court in 1856. Since then due process has ev . . .

Education and the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

Public education in the United States is primarily a local function. The federal government has no direct control over areas such as selection of curriculum, length of school year, qualifications of t . . .

Elections and the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court has been a recurring issue in presidential campaigns since 1800. Candidates of both major parties, and those of some third parties, have made the Court's rulings on a variety of issu . . .

Electronic Surveillance, Encyclopedia Entry

The invention of the microphone, telephone, and audio recording devices gave law enforcement officers the ability to eavesdrop on private conversations as a way of gathering evidence in criminal cases . . .

Equal Protection, Encyclopedia Entry

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution forbids any state to “deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Along with the amendment's protections for the . . .

Ex Parte, Encyclopedia Entry

Ex parte is a Latin term meaning “on behalf of.” A legal proceeding is said to be ex parte if it occurs on the application of one party without notice to the adverse party. A c . . .

Ex Post Facto, Encyclopedia Entry

Ex post facto is a Latin phrase meaning “from a thing done afterward.” An ex post facto law makes illegal an act that has already taken place or makes the punishment greater th . . .

Exclusionary Rule, Encyclopedia Entry

The exclusionary rule prohibits evidence obtained by the government in violation of a person's constitutional rights from being used against that person in a criminal trial. . . .

Executive Privilege and Immunity, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution makes no mention of executive privilege or executive immunity, yet they are important aspects of presidential power. Both concepts derive from the Constitution's system of . . .

Extrajudicial Activities, Encyclopedia Entry

Supreme Court justices may engage in extrajudicial activities if they wish, but such activities have often sparked controversy both inside the Court and among its critics. The extrajudicial activities . . .

Federal judicial center, Encyclopedia Entry

Congress created the Federal Judicial Center in 1967 “to further the development and adoption of improved judicial administration in the courts of the United States.” The center serves as . . .

Federalism, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution created a new form of government that the Framers called “federal.” It established a national government with direct power over citizens but preserved the states as sovere . . .

Felony, Encyclopedia Entry

A felony is a criminal offense defined by state or federal law to be punishable by imprisonment for a minimum period—typically, a term exceeding one year. A crime with lesser punishment is consi . . .

Flag Salute Cases, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court issued one of its most eloquent rulings in behalf of freedom of religion and freedom of speech in a wartime decision that barred the government from requiring public school students . . .

Foreign Affairs, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution specifically assigns some powers over foreign affairs to Congress and some to the president, but it makes no mention of many other powers of government that relate to foreign affairs. . . .

Gay Rights, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court was indifferent or hostile toward gay rights for several decades after cases involving homosexuals first appeared on its docket in the 1950s. Most significant . . .

Gibbons v. Ogden, Encyclopedia Entry

In a landmark opinion by Chief Justice John Marshall, the Supreme Court in Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) struck down a New York steamboat-monopoly law and gave a broad, but not un . . .

Gideon v. Wainwright, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court's decision in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) guaranteed the right to counsel to indigent criminal defendants. The ruling gave practical effect to a provision of . . .

Grand Jury, Encyclopedia Entry

A grand jury is a group of twelve to twenty-three people convened to hear, in private, evidence presented by the state against persons accused of crimes. The grand jury returns . . .

Habeas Corpus, Encyclopedia Entry

The writ of habeas corpus (a Latin term meaning “you have the body”) is a judicial instrument dating as far back as twelfth-century England. The writ is used to rev . . .

Health Care Policy, Encyclopedia Entry

The United States developed during the second half of the twentieth century separate private and public insurance systems to help individuals cover the cost of health care. Ov . . .

Historical Society, Supreme Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court Historical Society was founded in November 1974 to increase public interest in and knowledge about the Supreme Court and the federal court system. A nonprofit . . .

Housing the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

Between February 1, 1790, when the Supreme Court first met in New York City, and October 7, 1935, when the justices convened in the first building built especially for the Cour . . .

Impeachment, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution provides that the “President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States” can be removed from office “on Impeachment for, an . . .

Impeachment of Justices, Encyclopedia Entry

A Supreme Court justice can be removed from office only through impeachment in the House of Representatives and conviction by two-thirds of the Senate. Only one . . .

In Forma Pauperis, Encyclopedia Entry

About three-fourths of the cases the Supreme Court is asked to review each year are filed in forma pauperis (Latin: “in the manner of a pauper”). In such cases the . . .

Income Tax, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution provides that the federal government can impose a “direct” tax only if it is in proportion to the population of each state (Article I, section 9, c . . .

Incorporation Doctrine, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court developed the incorporation doctrine between 1925 and 1969 to require the states to abide by almost all of the major provisions of the bill of rights . . .

Indictment, Encyclopedia Entry

An indictment is a formal written accusation by a grand jury , based on evidence presented by a prosecutor, charging one or more persons with specified criminal . . .

Injunction, Encyclopedia Entry

An injunction is an order directing someone to halt a course of action that will cause irreparable injury to someone else, for which no adequate compensation can be made by a l . . .

Intellectual Property, Encyclopedia Entry

Intellectual property law deals with the rights to use and profit from creative works. The Constitution gives Congress the power “to promote the Progress of Science and u . . .

International Law, Encyclopedia Entry

International law has been defined as the rules and principles dealing with the conduct of nation states, relations between nations, and in some cases relations between nations . . .

Internet, Encyclopedia Entry

Throughout its history, the Court has been slow to welcome new forms of communication into the pantheon of speech protected by the First Amendment. The Court upheld regulation . . .

Internment Cases, Encyclopedia Entry

Twice during wartime the federal government partly suspended civil liberties to permit the detention without trial of thousands of civilians. Both times the Supreme Court looke . . .

Job Discrimination, Encyclopedia Entry

Employment discrimination—that is, hiring or promotion practices that exclude or disadvantage members of certain groups—has been widespread in the United States throughout the nation's his . . .

Judgment of the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The judgment of the court is the official decision of a court based on the rights and claims of the parties to a case that was submitted for determination. . . .

Judicial Activism, Encyclopedia Entry

Judicial activism denotes the expansive use of the powers of a court to lower the procedural requirements for deciding a case or to broadly construe a court's substantive authority to impose a decisio . . .

Judicial Conference of the United States, Encyclopedia Entry

The Judicial Conference of the United States is the body that makes policy for administering the federal judicial system. In effect, it serves as the system's board of trustees or board of directors. . . .

Judicial Restraint, Encyclopedia Entry

Judicial restraint is the judicial philosophy of refraining from exercising the potential powers of a court either by strictly defining the procedural requirements for judicial action or by narrowly d . . .

Judicial Review, Encyclopedia Entry

Judicial review is the power of courts to measure the acts of Congress, the actions of the executive, and the laws and practices of the states against the Constitution and to invalidate those that con . . .

Juries, Encyclopedia Entry

The roots of the trial by jury go as far back as thirteenth-century England. The U.S. Constitution requires jury trials for “all Crimes except in Cases of Impeachment . . .

Jurisdiction, Encyclopedia Entry

Jurisdiction is the power of a court to hear and decide a case based on its authority over the subject matter of the case and the presence of the proper parties in the case. . . .

Justiciability, Encyclopedia Entry

Justiciability is the characteristic that makes a case appropriate for judicial decision. The term embraces several doctrines including mootness , political question, ripene . . .

Legal Office of the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court's own legal office was established in 1973 to serve two primary functions. First, the legal office acts as “house counsel” on questions directly concerning the Court and . . .

Legal System in America, Encyclopedia Entry

The United States has fifty-two separate court systems: the federal judicial system and an independent court system in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. (See courts . . .

Legal Tender Cases, Encyclopedia Entry

During the Civil War a constitutional challenge to the Union government's use of paper money to finance the war effort led to an embarrassing pair of Supreme Court decisions that first rejected and th . . .

Legislative veto, Encyclopedia Entry

The legislative veto is a device that enabled Congress to retain a measure of control over the implementation or execution of a law. It permitted one or both chambers—or in some cases one or mor . . .

Libel, Encyclopedia Entry

A libel is a printed or broadcast statement about an individual that defames the person's character or reputation and can be the basis for a recovery of damages in a civil lawsuit. Until 1964 the Supr . . .

Loyalty Oaths, Encyclopedia Entry

Loyalty oath statutes require individuals to prove their allegiance to the United States before they can hold certain public positions. Such laws were common at two critical periods of American histor . . .

Majority Opinion, Encyclopedia Entry

The opinion joined by a majority of the justices is called either “the opinion of the Court” or sometimes the “majority opinion.” (See opinions .) . . .

Mandamus, Encyclopedia Entry

A writ of mandamus (a Latin term meaning “we command”) is a court order to a lower court or government department or official requiring the performance of a nondiscretionary government act . . .

Mandatory Jurisdiction, Encyclopedia Entry

Mandatory jurisdiction, as distinguished from discretionary jurisdiction, denotes the cases that a court is obligated to hear and decide. When Congress establishes a right of appeal . . .

Marbury v. Madison, Encyclopedia Entry

Sometimes called the single most important ruling in the history of the Supreme Court, Marbury v. Madison (1803) established the principle of judicial review and the Court' . . .

Marshal of the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The marshal of the Court is easily recognized as the officer who calls the Supreme Court to order by crying “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez” (an Old French word meaning “hear ye”). The marsh . . .

McCulloch v. Maryland, Encyclopedia Entry

A states’ rights challenge to the chartering of the second Bank of the United States led in 1819 to a landmark Supreme Court decision supporting expansive congressional power. . . .

Media and the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court received only sporadic news coverage in its early years, sometimes ill-informed and often partisan. Reporting about the Court became more accurate and commentary somewhat more consci . . .

Merits, on the, Encyclopedia Entry

A legal decision is said to be “on the merits” when based on the substantive facts and law involved, rather than on matters of procedure or jurisdiction. . . .

Miranda v. Arizona, Encyclopedia Entry

Miranda v. Arizona (1966) is the Warren Court's best known and perhaps most controversial decision extending constitutional protections to criminal defendants and suspects. The ruling requ . . .

Misdemeanor, Encyclopedia Entry

A misdemeanor, as distinguished from a felony, is a less serious criminal offense, defined by federal or state law as punishable by a fine or imprisonment for a limited period of time—typically . . .

Mootness, Encyclopedia Entry

A court will not decide a case when it is moot—that is, when circumstances are sufficiently altered by time or events to remove the dispute or conflict of interests. The Supreme Court has linked . . .

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court's landmark decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) set constitutional limits on libel law. It substantially expanded the protecti . . .

Nomination to the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

Article II of the Constitution gives the president the power to nominate members of the Supreme Court, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. Because Supreme Court ju . . .

Oaths of Office, Encyclopedia Entry

Justices of the Supreme Court must take two oaths of office before they can officially discharge their duties. The first is the “constitutional” oath, which all federal employees must take . . .

Obiter Dictum, Encyclopedia Entry

Obiter dictum (Latin for said in passing) is a statement by a justice expressing a view that is included with, but is not essential to, an opinion resolving a case before the Court. The plural is obit . . .

Obscenity and indecency, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court has never considered obscenity to warrant First Amendment protection, but it did not provide a definition for lower courts to use in determining whether material is obscene until 195 . . .

Official Immunity, Encyclopedia Entry

English common law established limits on the right to bring legal actions against the government or its officers. This concept of official immunity has been carried over into American law, but over ti . . .

Open Housing, Encyclopedia Entry

Congress enacted the first federal civil rights law prohibiting racial discrimination in the sale or rental of real property in 1866, but the law went all but ignored for more than a century. The Supr . . .

Operations of the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court is a small part of the federal judiciary and the one most bound by tradition and custom. The nine justices work in a single, if palatial, building in the nation's capital with a supp . . .

Opinions, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court issues one or more written opinions in every case it decides, to explain the legal grounds and reasoning of the ruling. An opinion joined byat least a majority of the justices is cal . . .

Original Intent, Encyclopedia Entry

Original intent is a method of interpreting the Constitution that determines the meaning of a passage mainly by looking at the Framers’ intentions. A similar but to some extent distinct method o . . .

Original Jurisdiction, Encyclopedia Entry

The original jurisdiction of a court is its power to hear and decide cases from the beginning. It is distinguished from appellate jurisdiction, which is the power to hear and decide an appeal from a l . . .

Pardons, Encyclopedia Entry

Except in cases of impeachment, the Constitution gives the president the unlimited power “to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States” (Ar . . .

Parochial Schools, Aid to, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court has ruled that government aid to church-related elementary and secondary schools sometimes violates the First Amendment prohibition against the establishment . . .

Pay and perquisites, Encyclopedia Entry

The annual salary of the chief justice of the United States was $223,500 in 2011; associate justices earned $213,900 each. Under the Constitution, Congress may not reduce the j . . .

Pentagon Papers Case, Encyclopedia Entry

In an unprecedented clash between national security and freedom of the press, the Supreme Court in 1971 refused to block newspapers from publishing accounts of a classified gov . . .

Per Curiam Opinion, Encyclopedia Entry

Per curiam, a Latin term meaning “by the court,” denotes an opinion not signed by an individual justice. Per curiam opinions are most commonly issued in cases . . .

Personal Papers, Encyclopedia Entry

In the past, the personal papers of Supreme Court justices were not considered an especially valuable resource for scholars or journalists. More recently, however, some justice . . .

Petition, Right of, Encyclopedia Entry

The First Amendment right “to petition the Government for redress of grievances” had its origins in the Magna Carta and the development of the English parliamentary . . .

Petitioner, Encyclopedia Entry

A petitioner is one who files a petition with a court seeking action or relief. In Supreme Court practice, a “petitioner” is the party filing a petition for . . .

Plaintiff, Encyclopedia Entry

A plaintiff is a person who brings a civil lawsuit—that is, a complaint against another individual, against a business or other incorporated or unincorporated association . . .

Plea Bargaining, Encyclopedia Entry

A plea bargain is an agreement by which a defendant pleads guilty in exchange for a prosecutor's promise of less severe punishment than could be expected after trial. The plea . . .

Plessy v. Ferguson, Encyclopedia Entry

Homer Plessy, who was one-eighth black and appeared white, challenged a Louisiana law segregating blacks from whites on railway trains. The Supreme Court's 8–1 decision i . . .

Plurality opinion, Encyclopedia Entry

Occasionally no opinion in a case gains the support of a majority of the Supreme Court justices. In such instances, the opinion supported by the largest number of justices is c . . .

Police Power, Encyclopedia Entry

Police power is the general authority of the state to govern its citizens, its land, and its resources. Although the phrase does not appear in the Constitution, the Supreme Cou . . .

Political Question, Encyclopedia Entry

The political question doctrine calls for the federal courts to refrain from ruling on government questions that lie entirely within the discretion of the “political̶ . . .

Politics and the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court in its decisions sometimes refers to the legislative and the executive branches of government as the “political branches,” but the Court itself ha . . .

Precedent, Encyclopedia Entry

A precedent is a decided case used by a court as a basis for ruling on an identical or similar case. The Supreme Court relies on precedent in arriving at decisions. Except in r . . .

Preemption, Encyclopedia Entry

The preemption doctrine invalidates state laws, under the supremacy clause of the Constitution, if they conflict with federal law. The Supreme Court first estab . . .

Press, Freedom of, Encyclopedia Entry

The First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits Congress from passing any law abridging the freedom of the press. The Framers, however, provided few details as to what that c . . .

Prima Facie, Encyclopedia Entry

Prima facie (a Latin term meaning “at first sight”) denotes the quantity of evidence sufficient to establish a claim or defense unless contradicted by the other sid . . .

Privacy, Right of, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution does not mention privacy, but the Supreme Court has recognized privacy as a constitutional right that limits the government's power to interfere with personal . . .

Probable Cause, Encyclopedia Entry

Probable cause is the standard of proof required under the Fourth Amendment to justify arresting a criminal suspect or conducting a search for evidence or contraband. It is als . . .

Property Rights, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court's attitude toward property rights has changed drastically from era to era. The Court was protective of property rights in the early nineteenth century and aga . . .

Public Accommodations, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court in the late 1800s overturned a congressional act prohibiting racial discrimination in public accommodations and upheld legally mandated segregation . . .

Public Information Office, Encyclopedia Entry

The Public Information Office is responsible for distributing information about the Court and the justices, facilitating coverage of the Court by the news media, and answering . . .

Public Opinion and the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court was intended as an independent check on the political branches of the federal government. To that end, the Framers of the Constitution insulated the Court fro . . .

Ratings of Justices, Encyclopedia Entry

Choosing “great justices” is inevitably subjective, legal scholar John Frank once wrote. “There is considerable room for personal taste,” he said. Despi . . .

Reapportionment and Redistricting, Encyclopedia Entry

Legislative bodies in the United States—the House of Representatives, state legislatures, and most city or county councils—are composed of members who are elected f . . .

Religion, Freedom of, Encyclopedia Entry

Freedom of religion is basic to the American concept of liberty. The First Amendment protects religious freedom with two distinct clauses: “Congress shall make no law res . . .

Remand, Encyclopedia Entry

A remand is an action by an appellate court to send a case back to the court from which it came for further proceedings. A remand is usually unnecessary when an appellate court . . .

Removal of Cases, Encyclopedia Entry

In creating the federal judiciary, Congress in 1789 provided a limited right to persons initially charged in state courts to “remove,” or transfer, the case to a fe . . .

Reporter of Decisions, Encyclopedia Entry

The reporter of decisions is responsible for editing the opinions of the Supreme Court. The reporter and a staff of ten people check all citations in opinions, correct typograp . . .

Resignation, Encyclopedia Entry

Seventeen justices have resigned from the Supreme Court for reasons other than retirement . . . .

Respondent, Encyclopedia Entry

A respondent, in Supreme Court practice, is the party called on to answer a petition for a writ of certiorari filed by the opposing party in a lower court case. . . .

Retirement, Encyclopedia Entry

Neither the Constitution nor any statute states when or under what circumstances a justice should retire from service on the Supreme Court. Justices are appointed for life and . . .

Reversals of Earlier Rulings, Encyclopedia Entry

The doctrine of stare decisis , or respect for precedent , requires the Supreme Court generally to follow its pr . . .

Reversals of Rulings by Constitutional Amendment, Encyclopedia Entry

A Supreme Court ruling based on the Constitution can be reversed only by adoption of a constitutional amendment. On four occasions Congress and the states have completed action . . .

Reversals of Rulings by Legislation, Encyclopedia Entry

Congress can reverse the effect of a Supreme Court decision that restricts or invalidates a federal law by reenacting the statute in modified form. One scholar counted more tha . . .

Ripeness, Encyclopedia Entry

Just as the mootness doctrine prevents a court from deciding a case after it is too late, the ripeness doctrine may prevent it from deciding a case too soon. As . . .

Roe v. Wade, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade (1973) gave women a qualified constitutional right to abortion . The decision touched off an intense legal and political controv . . .

Schedule of Arguments and Conferences, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court specifies times during each annual term for oral arguments , for conferences , for the writing of opinions, and for the announce . . .

School Desegregation, Encyclopedia Entry

Beginning in 1896 the Supreme Court first condoned racial segregation in public schools, then began to undermine it. Finally, in brown v. b . . .

School Prayer, Encyclopedia Entry

Before the 1960s it was a common practice to conduct prayer or Bible readings as devotional exercises in public schools. In the early 1960s the Supreme Court ruled that such ac . . .

Scott v. Sandford, Encyclopedia Entry

Dred Scott was a Missouri slave whose effort to secure his freedom led to a Supreme Court decision, Scott v. Sandford (1857), which denied Congress the power to ban slavery in . . .

Scottsboro Cases, Encyclopedia Entry

Nine young, illiterate black men, aged thirteen to twenty-one, were charged in 1931 with the rape of two white women on a freight train passing through Tennessee and Alabama. E . . .

Seal of the Supreme Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The seal of the Supreme Court, like the seals of the president, vice president, and Department of State, derives from the Great Seal of the United States. Designed by Charles T . . .

Search and Seizure, Encyclopedia Entry

The Fourth Amendment provides that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall n . . .

Sedition Laws, Encyclopedia Entry

Sedition consists of offenses against the authority of the government that do not amount to treason. In the early twentieth century the federal government and thirty-three stat . . .

Segregation, Encyclopedia Entry

Segregation is the practice of racial separation. It was established by law or custom in much of the United States, most extensively in the South, from the era of slavery throu . . .

Selective Service Rulings, Encyclopedia Entry

The federal government first conscripted men into the army during the Civil War. Its authority to raise armies through a compulsory draft was not tested in the federal courts u . . .

Self-Incrimination, Encyclopedia Entry

The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination is stated clearly: no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” But th . . .

Seniority, Encyclopedia Entry

Many Supreme Court procedures are guided by the Court's long tradition of seniority. With the exception of the chief justice, who is “first among equals,” justices . . .

Sentencing Guidelines, Encyclopedia Entry

For most of U.S. history, judges, juries, and parole boards had broad discretion in setting prison sentences for criminal defendants. Congress and the states established new se . . .

Separation of Powers, Encyclopedia Entry

The constitutional system of separation of powers is designed to protect individual liberties by dividing the functions of the federal government among three independent branch . . .

Severability, Encyclopedia Entry

Severability is the concept that allows part of a law to survive even after another part of the same statute has been held invalid. Without this device an entire statute would . . .

Sex Discrimination, Encyclopedia Entry

For nearly a century the Supreme Court rejected every effort to overturn sex-based classifications in the law. It began to apply the equal protection Clause to . . .

Size of the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

Congress has increased or reduced the number of justices on the Supreme Court seven times since it was established with six members in 1789. The increases resulted from the nat . . .

Slaughterhouse Cases, Encyclopedia Entry

The Fourteenth Amendment provides that the states shall not “abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States”; “deprive any person of li . . .

Slavery and the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The issue of slavery came to the Supreme Court in its first decades as a question of international or commercial law or of states’ rights and federal power, not as a huma . . .

Solicitor General, Encyclopedia Entry

The solicitor general is the attorney who represents the U.S. government before the Supreme Court. The solicitor general's office, which is part of the Justice Department, deci . . .

Speech, Commercial, Encyclopedia Entry

Commercial speech—that is, advertising or other speech proposing a commercial transaction—was once considered unprotected by the First Amendment and therefore subje . . .

Speech, Freedom of, Encyclopedia Entry

The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to p . . .

Speedy Trial, Right to, Encyclopedia Entry

The Sixth Amendment states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.” The Constitution, however, sets no defin . . .

Spending Powers, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court has broadly interpreted the authority of Congress to appropriate and spend money, under the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution (Article I, sectio . . .

Standing to Sue, Encyclopedia Entry

Determination of standing involves the question of whether an individual has a sufficient personal interest at stake in a legal dispute to bring the matter into a court. The Su . . .

Stare Decisis, Encyclopedia Entry

Stare decisis is a Latin phrase meaning “let the decision stand.” The phrase embodies the principle of adherence to settled cases. The Supreme Court gen . . .

States and the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution, written to create the national government, limits the powers and activities of the states, but it also assumes their continued operation as effective units of . . .

Strict Construction, Encyclopedia Entry

Strict construction is an imprecise term that originally meant a narrow view of the federal government's powers under the Constitution. More recently it has come to . . .

Subpoena, Encyclopedia Entry

A subpoena is a court order to present oneself before a grand jury or court to give testimony. A subpoena duces tecum (a Latin term meaning “bring with . . .

Summary Judgment, Encyclopedia Entry

Summary judgment is a procedure in civil cases designed to avoid unnecessary trials. On a motion by either the plaintiff or defendant, the judge can decide that the parties to . . .

Supremacy Clause, Encyclopedia Entry

The major goal of the Constitutional Convention was to create a stronger national government than existed under the Articles of Confederation. Toward that end, the Supremacy Cl . . .

Supreme Court Building, Encyclopedia Entry

For the first 145 years of its existence, the Supreme Court was a tenant in buildings intended for other purposes. The Court did not move into its own building until 1935. Betw . . .

Taxing Power, Encyclopedia Entry

Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress had no power to raise taxes; it could only request contributions from the states. To remedy this weakness, the Framers of the Constitution gave Congress c . . .

Temporary Restraining Order, Encyclopedia Entry

A temporary restraining order (TRO) is a judge's order to a person or entity to refrain from taking certain action before a hearing can be held on the question. It is distinguished from a temporary or . . .

Term Limits, Encyclopedia Entry

A powerful political movement emerged in the 1990s aimed at limiting terms of office for local and state lawmakers and members of Congress. More than twenty states passed laws setting term limits for . . .

Term of the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

By law the Supreme Court begins its regular annual term on the first Monday in October. Known as the October term, this session lasts about nine months. The summer recess, which is not determined by s . . .

Test Case, Encyclopedia Entry

A test case is a lawsuit that is planned and organized to gain a favorable ruling on a legal or constitutional issue from the Supreme Court. Many of the Court's most important rulings throughout its h . . .

The President and the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

Since the adoption of the Constitution more than two centuries ago, the powers of the president have grown far beyond what the Framers envisioned. The gradual shift in power fr . . .

Three-Judge Court, Encyclopedia Entry

A three-judge court is a special tribunal required by some federal statutes to try cases of special public importance. Congress created the procedure early in the twentieth century. It was intended to . . .

Tort Law, Encyclopedia Entry

Tort law covers a broad range of wrongdoing committed by one party against another—from a fender bender to libel to medical malpractice and product liability. It has . . .

Traditions of the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

Tradition plays a major role in the operations of the Supreme Court. The Court's insistence on the historic continuity of its procedures, and its strict adherence to conventions of secrecy and formal . . .

Travel, Right to, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized an individual right to travel within the United States. After wavering for many years on its basis, the Court in 1999 said that the right derived from separ . . .

Treaty Power, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution gives the president the power to make treaties with foreign countries “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate … provided that two thirds of the Senators present . . .

Trials, Encyclopedia Entry

Trials are mentioned only once in the original Constitution. Article III, section 2, requires jury trials for all crimes except in cases of impeachment and specifies that t . . .

Unconstitutional Statutes, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court has declared through June 27, 2011, at least 167 acts of Congress unconstitutional in whole or in part. The Court's power of judicial review is not explic . . .

United States Reports, Encyclopedia Entry

United States Reports, usually called U.S. Reports, contains the official text of Supreme Court opinions. The Court's opinions are bound into numbered books. The first number in a case cit . . .

Vacancy, Encyclopedia Entry

A seat on the Supreme Court becomes vacant when a justice dies, retires, or resigns. On average, a vacancy on the Court has occurred about once every two years. The longest per . . .

Veto Power, Encyclopedia Entry

The veto power is the president's power to disapprove a bill passed by Congress, subject to being overridden in turn by Congress. It is one of the most important parts of the c . . .

Voting Rights, Encyclopedia Entry

When the United States was founded, the right to vote, called suffrage, was limited to white male property owners, but it has now been extended to virtually every American citi . . .

War Powers, Encyclopedia Entry

The Constitution divides war powers between Congress and the president. It gives Congress the power to declare war and to raise and maintain an army and navy (Article I, section 8, clauses 11–13 . . .

Workload of the Court, Encyclopedia Entry

Throughout most of its history the Supreme Court has coped with a heavy and sometimes burdensome workload. In its early decades the Court heard few cases because appeals moved slowly through the new f . . .

Writing Opinions, Encyclopedia Entry

The Supreme Court's written opinions contain not only the Court's decision but also the Court's view of the legal issues that underlie the decision. They are the written record of the Court's work tha . . .

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer, Encyclopedia Entry

President Harry S. Truman attempted to take over the nation's steel mills to avert a strike during the Korean War. His attempt led to a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1952 rejecting broad assertio . . .

Zoning, Encyclopedia Entry

Zoning laws are now on the books in virtually every municipality. Such laws first appeared in the early twentieth century, as local governments sought to control urbanization and the encroachment of f . . .

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