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The United States Supreme Court is made of eight Associate Justices and one Chief Justice. The Chief Justice is paid more than the Associate Justices but retains an equal vote to the Associate Justices. The eight associate justices earn a pay of $244,400, while current Chief Justice John Roberts receives $255,500 per year. As the presiding officer of the supreme court, he is responsible for the administration of the court and leadership of the federal judicial system. When a Chief Justice dies or resigns the president may either appoint one of the eight existing Associate Justices to the position of Chief Justice or may appoint an “outsider” as Chief Justice. This means there is no way an Associate Justice can gain seniority and earn the Chief Justice Position.
The president appoints all judges established by Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which states, “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.” and Justices hold office, “for good behavior.” Meaning they can sit as federal judges until they voluntarily resign or die, if they do not do anything major that may imply poor judgment. Congress has the ability to impeach a federal judge, similar to the process of impeaching a president, for crimes such as treason, and bribery. To ensure the autonomy of the federal judiciary, the U.S. Constitution forbids any reduction in federal judges’ salaries during their term in office. These two protections ensure that an independent judiciary decides cases free from the fear of backlash from the public for their decisions on law.
The Supreme Court has not always had nine Justices. When the court was created in 1789, President George Washington began the original United States Supreme Court, getting six justices approved by the Senate. President Washington Appointed Eleven Justices during his term as president of the United States of America. So far, he has the record for appointing the most justices during his presidential term and having the most approved for the position. President George Washington originally selected John Jay to oversee as Chief Justice, and John Blair, William Cushing, Robert Harrison, John Rutledge, and James Wilson as the Associate Justices. On September 26, the United States Senate approved these justices for the first United States Supreme Court. On February 1, 1790, the very first session of the U.S. Supreme Court was held in New York City.
The number of Justices evolved several times; In 1807, Congress increased the number of justices to seven; in 1837, the number swelled to nine; and in 1863, it reached its peak at 10. The Judicial Circuits Act passed by Congress in 1866, dropped the number of justices back to seven and prevented President Andrew Johnson from selecting anyone new to the court. Three years later, in 1869, Congress increased the number of Supreme Court Justices to nine, where it has been ever since. The most recent attempt to alter the size of the supreme court occurred in 1937 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered a plan to the Senate for the reorganization of the court. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s proposal called for adding an additional Justice every time any Justice turned 70 years old and did not voluntarily retire, to a maximum of 15 justices. The public immediately refused his attempt, and there has been no serious discussion of changing the number of justices since.
The nine justices usually only take on cases that involve constitutional law, death row cases, and substantial cases regarding the application of federal law. Out of ten thousand cases submitted to the United States Supreme Court, they may only hear about eighty all year. The most common way for a case to gain access to the United States Supreme Court from a lower court of appeal is the writ of certiorari. The lower court will file a petition for writ of Certiorari and pay the $300 fee to file it and from this point, the United States Supreme Court will either grant or deny Certiorari. If granted the Supreme Court will request files and records from the lower courts and review the case further. If denied the ruling of the lower courts holds but it does not mean the Supreme Court ruled one way or another on the case it simply means the case did not meet the criteria necessary to be heard by the Supreme Court.
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