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How does the Supreme Court work?

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Thanks to countless hours spent in high school civics class, most Americans are aware of the Supreme Court and the impact it has on our society. From helping to end discrimination in public schools to giving women the right to have an abortion, the impact the Supreme Court has had on American society is almost impossible to quantify. Let’s take a closer look at how this powerful body works and how people get to serve as a member of the court.

Thanks to cable news and the number of political blogs in existence, people today have a greater knowledge of how the Supreme Court nomination process works than ever before. During the 1980’s people everywhere got to see the nominations of Robert Bork, who failed in his attempt to become a part of the Supreme Court to Clarence Thomas who managed to be appointed successfully even though the nomination process was fraught with controversy. Before a person can sit in front of Congress in an attempt to join the Supreme Court, they must be first nominated to fill an existing vacancy by the President of the United States. One of the most underrated powers that the president has is that of nominating Supreme Court justices. Although a president can only serve two terms, the Supreme Court justices that they nominate can serve as long as they live, which can tip the court to either conservative or liberal perspectives for generations.

While history has shown that the nomination process is often clear sailing, it can be fraught with problems depending on the candidate that has been nominated. In the case of Robert Bork, a nominee can actual be turned down by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the president than has to nominate another person. A similar firestorm of controversy occurred with the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, although much of that controversy revolved around personal issues and not his constitutional interpretations.

While more and more people are familiar with the nomination and approval process that is used to determine who serves on the Supreme Court, most people don’t understand how a case makes it to the highest court in the land to be heard. There are two main ways that the Supreme Court can choose to hear a case. If there is a dispute between two states, the Supreme Court can step in and choose to rule on the case. Although this happens very rarely, a recent example was when a dispute between New York and New Jersey over which state controlled historic Ellis Island. The other way that the court can hear a case is if a majority of members of the court agree to hear it. If they choose not to, the final ruling of the lower court is considered final.

The Supreme Court may be the most important, most complex and least understood part of American government, but thanks to advancements in technology, people everywhere are beginning to realize the momentous impact the court has had and will continue to have on society as a whole.

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