What is The United States Supreme Court?

 

We try to keep our readers and clients informed on matters relative to changes in the law that may affect them.  From time to time we bring to your attention cases heard by the Supreme Court that in one way or another may affect you. Therefore, we thought it was important to help you understand the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court as well as the impact and ramifications of the decisions that they make.

 

The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in our nation.  It is the last court of appeals and it is composed by nine judges, all appointed by the President. For the past eight years, Chief Justice John Roberts has served as head of the court. The court may or may not choose to hear a case that is brought to their attention. But once a case is heard by the court, how they rule has a great impact. The decision they make when ruling on any particular case sets a precedent on that particular issue that must be followed and adhered to by all other lower courts in the country.  No lower court can ever supersede a U.S. Supreme Court decision; not even Congress or the president can change, reject or ignore a Supreme Court decision.

American law operates under what is known as stare decisis doctrine.   This means that prior decisions should be maintained — even if the current court would otherwise rule differently — and that lower courts must abide by the prior decisions of higher courts. This concept is based on a belief that government needs to be relatively stable and predictable, and to insure that this happens, U. S.  Supreme Court´s decisions must be  adhered to by all lower courts.

Consequently, it is very difficult to overturn a Supreme Court decision.

There are two ways it can happen:

  • States can amend their state Constitution itself.  Although it is not easily accomplished, it has happened and requires approval by three-quarters of the state legislatures – not an easy feat. However, it can and has happened several times.

 

  • The Supreme Court can actually overrule itself. This occurs when a different case involving the same constitutional issues as an earlier case is reviewed by the court.  The court may see the same issue differently either due to political or social changes.  Of course, the longer time that has lapsed between cases the more it is likely it will occur in part because of stare decisis.