U.S. Supreme Court: Why we should care
The next Supreme Court decisions can affect how we receive health care, our immigration policy, or rules related to college admissions
Affirmative action, immigration, and union rights are some of the important Supreme Court decisions that could end on a tie vote
The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has resulted in a great deal of discussion about his potential replacement and the related judicial and political implications. Therefore, an explanation of the Supreme Court itself and how it affects our daily lives is appropriate and timely.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the U.S. It has nine members — a chief justice and eight associate justices. They are appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve for life—until retirement or death.
The Supreme Court has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over both federal and state court cases that consider issues of federal law. Whereas the job of the Legislative Branch (Congress) is to make federal law, and the responsibility of the Executive Branch (President) to enforce the law, the Supreme Court’s job is to interpret laws in light of the U.S. Constitution. Most cases have been argued and appealed in the lower courts before they finally arrive at the Supreme Court to be decided. The Court usually hears about 80 cases each term (out of thousands of requests).
Much of what we encounter as a society has federal law implications. Supreme Court decisions can confirm or change how we receive health care, immigration policy, or rules related to college admissions. Underlying many cases are the limits of federal vs. state power. For instance, while most of the Affordable Care Act was upheld a few years ago, the court struck down the portion requiring states to expand Medicaid. As a result, states can voluntarily expand Medicaid (like California does) but cannot be forced to do so.
Cases that the court is scheduled to deal with this term include those dealing with affirmative action, immigration, and union rights. Justice Scalia’s death, and the prospects for his replacement are important partly because there are now only eight justices, which means that some of these important cases may end in a tie vote. If that occurs, then the decision of the court below is affirmed, but does not establish binding precedent.
Ironically, though the Court is supposed to be non-partisan, most presidents nominate candidates who broadly share their ideological views. President Obama’s intention – actually, his obligation – to nominate a replacement for Justice Scalia and the senate Republican leadership’s vow to not consider an appointee this year may bring the Supreme Court directly into the minds of voters in the presidential contest.