The Supreme Court is sometimes referred to as SCOTUS, analogous to POTUS – Supreme Court (or President) Of The United States. It consists of the Chief Justice of the U.S. and eight Associate Justices (although Congress has the power to change that number). They tend to begin serving well into their law careers, after an acclaimed career and long experience as a judge. They serve for life, or until they decide to resign or retire, or are impeached. They meet in their own building in Washington, D.C.
Over the years since 1789, each change of Chief Justice has marked a new stage in the ongoing career of the Supreme Court, and in each stage, the court is named for whoever is Chief Justice at that time. In each stage, the court makes a series of important rulings which add up to a certain identity for that particular group of nine judges.
The Marshall Court ran from 1801 to 1836, and gave initial shape to the balance of power between the federal and state governments. It ruled that the Supreme Court could correct state supreme courts in their interpretations of the Constitution. It also set the practice which we see today of rulings being issued as one majority opinion with minority dissensions. That was a change from the inherited British tradition where opinions were issued separately by each judge.
The Taney Court from 1836 to 1864 ruled on the famous Dred Scott case, opining that people of African descent brought here as slaves, and their descendants, could not be citizens, could not bring a lawsuit against anybody, and could not be taken from their owners without due process. This decision is thought to have been a contributing cause of the Civil War, but it was overturned later by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments which abolished slavery and gave full rights and citizenship irrespective of race.
Closer to our own era, the Warren Court, from 1953 to 1969, made several rulings which expanded application of the Constitution to civil liberties. It opined that racial segregation was unconstitutional in public schools, that the Constitution gives (a) a right to privacy and (b) a right to have a court-appointed lawyer if you’re too poor to pay for your own. It ruled that public schools cannot have any mandatory prayer times or Bible readings (although they may have optional prayer).
The Burger Court from 1969 to 1986 made the controversial ruling that abortion is a constitutional right. It also opined that the death penalty is not unconstitutional, although its implementation at that time in some states was unconstitutional.
The Rehnquist Court from 1986 to 2005 put some restrictions on Congressional power, working with the idea of federalism. It put an end to the repeated electoral recounts in the 2000 presidential election, allowing George W. Bush into the White House. It also put some limits on picketing by labor unions and removed some from abortions.
The current Supreme Court is the Roberts Court, which began in 2005. Time will tell how it will be characterized by its rulings.
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