The Ins and Outs of the Supreme Court


Fred Schilling, Collection of th

The Roberts Court, April 23, 2021 Seated from left to right: Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor Standing from left to right: Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett. Photograph by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Recently in Texas, a debate has sprang to life. The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, passed a law stating that a woman could not get an abortion 6 weeks after conception. People all over the country are outraged with this decision. The case got so big that it eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. But the thing is, do people know how the Supreme Court works?

For starters, what even is the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the US. There’s a total of nine justices, one of which is the chief justice. Within the court itself, the chief justice sits in the middle, then to the right of them sits the senior associate justice. To the left of the chief justice sits the second senior justice. Members alternate sides based on their ranking.

Now that’s all great, but how does someone get elected into the Supreme Court?

The president will elect someone who they want to join the court. The court will then take a vote (majority rules) on whether or not the person should become a justice. The reason behind this is so that both the judicial and legislative branches have a say in who joins the court.

Next, the court must decide on what case to take. A justice will present a case they believe to be important, then they will all take a vote. If four of the nine justices vote for the case to be taken, a writ of certiorari will be written. A writ of certiorari is a legal order from a higher court to a lower court for them to send the higher court case records so that it can be reviewed.

Finally, the conclusion of the case. Each justice will converse with their law clerks in order to write up opinions that will later be used in the final decision for the case. There’s four major types of opinions.

The first (and most important) type of opinion is the majority opinion. This is the opinion held by 5/9 of the court.

The second type of opinion is concurring opinions. Concurring opinions are the opinions written by the judges in the majority. With these opinions, each justice is explaining their reasoning behind their choice. A justice can agree with the majority opinion, but not with the reasoning behind it, which is why they need to include their own explanations.

The third type of opinion is dissenting opinions. These opinions are written by the justices in the minority.

The fourth type of opinion is per curium. Per curium is latin for by the court. This type of opinion is one that’s held by the entire court and is presented by one justice. This is the most uncommon type of opinion.

For more information, visit the Supreme Court’s official website.