The Judicial Branch of the government is made up of courts and judges who interpret (explain) the laws and the Constitution. There are 92 District Courts where most of the cases begin. There are 12 Courts of Appeals in the United States, but the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. is the highest court in the United States. Their decisions are final. The Supreme Court was established by Article III of the United States Constitution, which describes the jurisdiction of the Court as follows: "The judicial power shall extend to all cases in law and equity arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made under their authority." The Court held its first session in New York City on February 2, 1790.

The nine members of the Supreme Court are called justices. The Chief Justice today is William H. Rehnquist. The justices are appointed by the President and must be approved by the Senate. They are appointed for life and cannot be removed from the court except by impeachment or unless they resign. The court reviews the decisions of the highest state courts and of the lower federal courts and may resolve ordinary private lawsuits where lower courts have disagreed. It has complete authority over all United States courts. The Court has original jurisdiction in cases which involve a public minister, ambassador, or consul. The Court's powers extend to all cases in which the United States is a party and to cases between governments or citizens of different states. Enforcement of Court decisions is the responsibility of the executive branch of the government.

Until 1981 all justices of the Supreme Court in its 191-year history had been men. President Ronald Reagan in 1981 appointed Judge Sandra Day O'Connor as the first woman Supreme Court Justice. In 1967, the Court's first black justice, Thurgood Marshall, was appointed. He later resigned and Clarence Thomas became the Court's second black justice after controversial confirmation hearings in the fall of 1991.

The Chief Justices
Chief justices since the foundation of the office in 1789 are John Jay; John Rutledge; Oliver Ellsworth; John Marshall; Roger Brooke Taney; Salmon P. Chase; Morrison R. Waite; Melville W. Fuller; Edward D. White; William Howard Taft; Charles Evans Hughes; Harlan Fiske Stone; Frederick Moore VUSCISon; Earl Warren; Warren Earl Burger; and William H. Rehnquist.


True and False Questions

1. There are no women on the Supreme Court.


2. The judicial branch of the government interprets the laws.


3. Supreme Court Justices are elected.


4. Supreme Court Justices' terms are 6 years.


5. There are 9 members of the Supreme Court.


6. One member is called Chief Justice.


7. There has never been a Black member of the Supreme Court.


8. The Supreme Court can overturn a State Supreme Court decision.


9. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation.


10. William H. Rehnquist is the Chief Justice now.