US Supreme Court for Kids & Teachers - American Government Illustration

The US Supreme Court
For Kids and Teachers

For Kids

Just as the President of the United States is the head of the executive branch of the U.S. government, the U.S. Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch of the U.S. government. The U.S. Supreme Court is the only court established by the Constitution. The Constitution does not stipulate how many judges should be on the Supreme Court at any one time. But, since the mid 1800s, there have been nine judges, called justices, who serve on the Supreme Court. 

Supreme Court judges (justices) are appointed by the president, approved by a vote of the Senate, and serve as long as they exhibit good behavior, which means usually for life unless they choose to retire. When a justice retires or dies, a new justice is selected in the same way - appointed by the president, approved by the Senate - so that once again, there are nine justices.

The job of a U.S. Supreme Court justice is to interpret laws passed by Congress, and to decide whether or not those laws are Constitutional. Justices hear arguments from both sides, and their decision is final. There is no higher court to whom someone might bring an appeal. Most of the cases the U.S. Supreme Court hears are appeals from lower courts. The U.S. Supreme Court is usually not under any obligation to hear these cases. Justices vote among themselves as to which cases they will hear as all nine justices sit on all cases heard. The cases they select usually have national importance.

Individual states also have a supreme court. For example, the Washington Supreme Court is the Supreme Court of the State of Washington. Each state supreme court is the highest court in that state. State supreme courts usually hear appeals from lower state courts.

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