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U.S. Supreme Court Research Papers

US Supreme Court research papers overview the structure of America's highest court. Paper Masters can focus on any aspect of the Supreme Court, including the members, previous laws, the role of the Court today and much more.

Membership in the U.S. Supreme Court is commonly viewed as being the ultimate goal, the pinnacle achievement of any judge who would aspire for such as position. Supreme Court justices as are Federal court of appeals judges and district court judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate as spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. The names of nominees are recommended by senators or sometimes member of the House who are of the President’s political party. Hearings are typically conducted by the Senate Judiciary Committee for the purpose confirming the nominee.  After committee confirmation the nomination is voted on by the full Senate. The appointment of these judicial officials are for life as set out by Article III of the Constitution. No specific qualifications to become a member of the judiciary are spelled out in the Constitution. However, an informal set of qualifications have been developed by members of Congress, who typically recommend potential nominees, and the Department of Justice, which reviews a nominees' qualifications. U.S. Supreme Court

That selection process involved a complex interplay of influences from:

  1. Non-governmental organizations such as the American Bar Association giving the nominee an approval rating;
  2. Other special interest groups such as the NAACP;
  3. The nominees history of competence and ethics;
  4. The president’s support of their candidate. 

The Senate takes into consideration the nominee’s apparent capabilities, stance on the constitution and what balance may be needed in the court.  Generally a courtesy is extended to the Senators representing the state the nominee comes from in the form of a veto of their candidacy.

Seven of the current members of the Supreme Court held judgeships on various Federal appeals courts.  The only two exceptions to this are Sandra Day O'Connor who held a judgeship on the Arizona Court of Appeals and the current Chief Justice William Rehnquist who was Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel during the Nixon presidency. If would seem that the vast majority of current members had a form of career path where perhaps today there are members of the Federal Court of Appeals who view their position as a possible stepping stone the Supreme Court. In breaking down the positions held by judges prior to their appointment to the Supreme Court the not that sixty were not judicial offices.  The breakdown of their prior positions is as follows:

  • Private Law Practice - 25  
  • State Governorship -  3
  • Federal Bench - 20
  • House of Representative -  2  
  • State Bench - 20  
  • U.S. Solicitors General -  2
  •  U.S. Attorney General -7  
  • U.S. “Assistant”Attorney General - 2  
  • Other Cabinet Posts - 7  
  • Law School Professorships - 2  
  • U.S. Senate  - 6  
  • Miscellaneous -  4

Though the Supreme Court was created by the Constitution nothing is really said about the number of members or when and how long it would meet.  It took congressional action in passing the Judicial Act of 1989 to begin to give form and substance to that branch of government.  Perhaps due to this beginning and the fact there were many opportunities available, “… a seat on the supreme bench was anything but the culmination of a legal career that it has since become.”  

John Jay, the first Chief Justice, resigned his position on the Court in order to become governor of New York that would be considered a lesser position by today’s reckoning.  Alexander Hamilton declined Jay’s role as he has plans for a private practice and political involvement in New York.  Another candidate turned down a place on the Court after having been confirmed by the Senate “to become chancellor of Maryland”. These are examples of an odd attitude towards the Court especially considering today’s veneration.  However, it is better understood when it is known that the Supreme Court heard no cases for its first three years and its members were expected to sit on appeals from decision which they had made as circuit court judges.

All the members who have become or who have been nominated to the Court, as noted in the book The First One Hundred Justices by Albert Blaustein and Roy Mersky, where lawyers by training.  As noted earlier there is no Constitutional or act of Congress that requires that members of the court to have a legal background.  “But only fifty-eight of the one hundred justice elevated to the nation’s highest court had had any prior judicial experience at all—and only twenty-one of the fifty-eight had served more than ten years on a state or federal bench.”

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