Supreme Court of the United States

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Great seal of the United States.png
Posts: 9
Judges: 9
Vacancies: 0
Chief: John Roberts
Active judges: Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts, Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas

Senior judges:
Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the country and leads the judicial branch of the federal government. It is often referred to by the acronym SCOTUS.[1]

The Supreme Court consists of nine justices: the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices. The justices are nominated by the president and confirmed with the "advice and consent" of the United States Senate per Article II of the United States Constitution. As federal judges, the justices serve during "good behavior," which means that justices have tenure for life unless they are removed by impeachment and subsequent conviction.[2]

On January 27, 2022, Justice Stephen Breyer officially announced he would retire at the start of the court's summer recess.[3][4] Breyer assumed senior status on June 30, 2022.[5] Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to fill the vacancy by the Senate in a 53-47 vote on April 7, 2022.[6] Click here to read more.

The Supreme Court is the only court established by the United States Constitution (in Article III); all other federal courts are created by Congress.

The Supreme Court meets in Washington, D.C., in the United States Supreme Court building. The Supreme Court's yearly term begins on the first Monday in October and lasts until the first Monday in October the following year. The court generally releases the majority of its decisions in mid-June.[2]

Active Justices

Article III Justices

See: Article III federal judge
Article III Justices
Judge Born Home Appointed
Active Preceeded
Law school
Associate justice
Samuel Alito
April 1, 1950 Trenton, N.J. W. Bush January 31, 2006 - Present Sandra Day O'Connor Yale Law School, 1975
Official roberts CJ.jpg
Chief justice
John Roberts
January 27, 1955 Buffalo, N.Y. W. Bush September 29, 2005 - Present William Rehnquist Harvard Law, 1979
Associate justice
Clarence Thomas
June 23, 1948 Savannah, Ga. H.W. Bush July 1, 1991 - Present Thurgood Marshall Yale Law School, 1974
Elena Kagan.jpg
Associate justice
Elena Kagan
April 28, 1960 New York, N.Y. Obama August 7, 2010 - Present John Paul Stevens Harvard Law School, J.D., 1986
Sonia Sotomayor official.jpg
Associate justice
Sonia Sotomayor
June 25, 1954 New York, N.Y. Obama August 6, 2009 - Present David Souter Yale Law School, 1979
Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch Official Portrait (cropped 2).jpg
Associate justice
Neil Gorsuch
August 29, 1967 Denver, Colo. Trump April 10, 2017 - Present Antonin Scalia Harvard Law School, 1991
Judge Brett Kavanaugh2.jpg
Associate justice
Brett Kavanaugh
February 12, 1965 Washington, D.C. Trump October 6, 2018 - Present Anthony Kennedy Yale Law School, 1990
Associate justice
Amy Coney Barrett
January 28, 1972 New Orleans, La. Trump October 26, 2020 - Present Ruth Bader Ginsburg Notre Dame Law School, 1997
Associate justice
Ketanji Brown Jackson
September 14, 1970 Washington, D.C. Biden June 30, 2022 - present Stephen Breyer Harvard Law School, 1996

SCOTUS background

Article III of the United States Constitution describes the original framework for the Judicial Branch. It establishes the U.S. Supreme Court as the nation's highest court and gives Congress the authority to create lower federal courts.

Article III, Section 1

Section 1 establishes the Supreme Court of the United States. It gives Congress the power to organize the Supreme Court and to establish lower courts. It also states that justices can serve on the court for as long as they maintain "good Behaviour," and that the justices should be compensated for their service.

Text of Section 1:
The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.[7]

Size of the court

See also: United States court reorganization legislation
History Central, "Supreme Court of the United States."

Article III gives Congress the authority to set the number of Supreme Court justices. The court has one chief justice and eight associate justices, but the number has fluctuated since 1789.

  • Originally, the total number of justices was set at six by the Judiciary Act of 1789. President George Washington signed the act into law on September 24, 1789, and he nominated John Jay to serve as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.[8]
  • In 1807, Congress increased the number of justices on the Supreme Court to seven "in response to the geographic expansion of the nation and the increased caseload of the district courts in the west. The act established a Seventh Circuit, consisting of Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and specified that the new justice be assigned to preside over the U.S. circuit courts within that circuit."[10]
  • The Eighth and Ninth Circuits Act of 1837 created the Eighth and Ninth Circuits to provide for an expanded caseload due to the admission of new states to the Union. This Act also rearranged the Seventh Circuit and created two new seats on the Supreme Court to support the circuit court.[11]
  • The Tenth Circuit Act of 1863 created the Tenth Circuit to represent California and Oregon, eliminated the California Circuit Court and added another member to the Supreme Court. This act gave the Supreme Court its highest number of members in history, with the chief justice and nine associate justices serving.[12]
  • The Judicial Circuits Act of 1866 reorganized the circuits in the thirty-six state nation, reducing the number of circuits from ten to nine. This reorganization created a basic structure of circuits lasting to present day. The Act also eliminated three positions on the Supreme Court.[13]
  • The Judiciary Act of 1869 again increased the size of the Supreme Court, setting it at nine justices, one for each circuit.[14]


According to, "The Constitution states that Justices 'shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.' This means that the Justices hold office as long as they choose and can only be removed from office by impeachment. The only Justice to be impeached was Associate Justice Samuel Chase in 1805. The House of Representatives passed Articles of Impeachment against him; however, he was acquitted by the Senate."[15]


Section I states that justices will "receive for their Services a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office." According to the Judicial Learning Center, "This security allows judges to decide each case strictly in terms of the legal issues in front of them, no matter how unpopular their decisions may be," which helps guarantee judicial independence.[16] In 2016, the salary for Chief Justice John Roberts was set at $260,700, and the salary for the associate justices was set at $249,300.[17]

Article III, Section 2

Section 2 establishes the court's jurisdiction. The court has original and appellate jurisdiction.

Original jurisdiction is "a court's power to hear and decide a case before any appellate review."[18] According to 28 U.S. Code § 1251, the Supreme Court has "original and exclusive jurisdiction of all controversies between two or more States." It also has "original but not exclusive jurisdiction of: (1) All actions or proceedings to which ambassadors, other public ministers, consuls, or vice consuls of foreign states are parties; (2) All controversies between the United States and a State; (3) All actions or proceedings by a State against the citizens of another State or against aliens."[19]

Appellate jurisdiction accounts for most of the cases on the court's docket, and is "The power of a court to hear appeals from lower courts. This includes the power to reverse or modify the the [sic] lower court's decision."[20]

Text of Section 2:
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;--to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;--to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;--to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;--to Controversies between two or more States;-- between a State and Citizens of another State,--between Citizens of different States,--between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.[7]

Nomination and confirmation process

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives the President of the United States the authority to nominate Supreme Court justices, and they are appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate. The newest member of the Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, was nominated by President Joe Biden (D) on February 28, 2022, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 7, 2022.

Text of Section 2:
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session. [7]

Choosing a nominee

List of potential nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court drawn up by Attorney General Levi and annotated and amended by President Gerald R. Ford.

Although the rules for appointing and confirming a U.S. Supreme Court justice are set out in the U.S. Constitution, the process for choosing nominees is not codified in law. Past presidents have received lists of recommendations from the White House counsel, the attorney general and lawyers in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Justices have often been friends or acquaintances who shared ideological views with the president.[21]

The nominating process is also influenced by individuals and organizations outside of the administration. The American Bar Association (ABA), through its 15-member Committee on Federal Judiciary, rates nominees as "well qualified," "qualified" or "not qualified." Others also lobby the president to choose nominees sympathetic to their views or to oppose those with whom they differ.[22]

Some presidents have required that a nominee hold a specific position on a key issue in order to be considered for nomination, sometimes referred to as a litmus test. Such a test is typically on an important social issue. But a nominee's views do not always conform to their future opinions. Some justices have ruled in ways that surprised the presidents who nominated them. Notable examples are Justice Tom C. Clark (nominated by President Harry S. Truman), Chief Justice Earl Warren (nominated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower) and Justice David Souter (nominated by President George H. W. Bush).[23]

The usual nomination process starts with the president choosing a nominee. It is not uncommon for the president to consult Senate leadership and the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee before deciding on a nominee.[24][25]

Consideration by the Senate Judiciary

"Ruth Bader Ginsburg being sworn into the U.S. Supreme Court while President Bill Clinton looks on.," August 10, 1993

After the president nominates an individual, the Senate Judiciary Committee conducts a rigorous investigation into the nominee’s background, gleaning a sense of his or her judicial philosophy and temperament, which helps inform whether the senator will support the nominee. During this part of the process, the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary reviews the nominee. The nominee also visits with senators in their offices in order to help win support for nomination. The most public aspect of the process is when the nominee testifies before the Judiciary Committee and takes questions. The hearing, which is kept open at the discretion of the chair, can last more than a day, as members, particularly opponents, verbally spar with the nominee. Having the nominee appear before the committee became a part of the process beginning with the nomination of John M. Harlan in 1955. The first televised Supreme Court nomination hearing took place in 1981 for Sandra Day O’Connor.[24][25]

Typically, a week after the hearing is adjourned, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a vote on the nominee. The committee’s practice has been to send the nomination, whether or not the nominee wins a majority, to the full Senate to allow the chamber to decide whether he or she should be confirmed.[24][25]

"President George W. Bush watches as Judge John G. Roberts is sworn-in as the 17th Chief Justice of the United States by Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens," September 29, 2005.

The debate in the Senate is scheduled by the Senate majority leader in consultation with the minority leader. In 2013, the Senate lowered the threshold to close debate on most nominations to a simple majority from 60 votes. But the change did not affect Supreme Court nominees, whose confirmation requires 60 votes to invoke cloture and end debate and proceed to a confirmation vote.[24][25]

Recess appointment

The president also may choose to make a recess appointment, which would avoid the need for Senate confirmation. But the justice's term would end with the end of the next session of Congress, rather than the lifetime appointments provided by Senate confirmation. There have been 12 recess appointments made to the Supreme Court, most in the 19th century, according to the Congressional Research Service. The most recent was made by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.[24][25]

Oath of office

When a Supreme Court nominee is confirmed by the Senate, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution requires the individual to take an oath of office before officially taking his or her place on the court.

Text of Article VI:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.[7]
The Constitutional Oath:
I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.[7]

Nominees must also take a judicial oath. According to, "The origin of the second oath is found in the Judiciary Act of 1789, which reads 'the justices of the Supreme Court, and the district judges, before they proceed to execute the duties of their respective offices' to take a second oath or affirmation."[26]

The Judicial Oath
I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as _________ under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.[26][7]

Code of conduct

The Supreme Court released a code of conduct for Supreme Court justices on November 13, 2023. A statement prefacing the code said, "For the most part these rules and principles are not new. [...] The absence of a Code, however, has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules. To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this Code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct."[27]

All nine sitting justices at the time, Justices Roberts, Alito, Barrett, Gorsuch, Jackson, Kagan, Kavanaugh, Sotomayor, and Thomas, signed onto the code. Reuters' Andrew Chung and John Kruzel wrote, "The new code drew mixed reviews, with some critics noting the apparent absence of any enforcement mechanism. It was adopted after a series of media reports detailing ethics questions surrounding some Supreme Court members."[28]

Expand the section below to read the text of the code of conduct as released on November 13, 2023.

Circuit assignments

Each Supreme Court justice is assigned to one of the 13 circuit courts of appeals, according to Title 28, United States Code, Section 42.[29] "Circuit Justices are responsible for ruling on certain motions arising from their assigned circuits, such as motions for extensions of time. In the case motions for a stay of execution or other motions relating to death penalty matters, the Circuit Justice ordinarily refers the motion to the Court as a whole, but takes the lead in recommending a disposition of the motion," according to SCOTUSblog.[30]

SCOTUS Circuit Court Assignments
Federal Circuit Court Justice States
District of Columbia Circuit Chief Justice John Roberts District of Columbia
First Circuit Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island
Second Circuit Justice Sonia Sotomayor Connecticut, New York, Vermont
Third Circuit Justice Samuel Alito Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virgin Islands
Fourth Circuit Chief Justice John Roberts Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia
Fifth Circuit Justice Samuel Alito Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas
Sixth Circuit Justice Brett Kavanaugh Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee
Seventh Circuit Justice Amy Coney Barrett Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin
Eighth Circuit Justice Brett Kavanaugh Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota
Ninth Circuit Justice Elena Kagan Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Washington
Tenth Circuit Justice Neil Gorsuch Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming
Eleventh Circuit Justice Clarence Thomas Alabama, Florida, Georgia
Federal Circuit Chief Justice John Roberts The Federal Circuit's jurisdiction is determined by the subject of the lawsuit, not geographical location.

Click on your region to find more information about the court of appeals for your state.

United States Court of Appeals for the 1st CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the 2nd CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the 3rd CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the 4th CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the 6th CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the 7th CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the Fifth CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the Eighth CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the 10th CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the Ninth CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the Ninth CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the 1st CircuitUnited States Court of Appeals for the 3rd CircuitUS Court of Appeals and District Court map.jpg

Political ideology of the justices

Although the justices do not represent political parties, media outlets such as The Washington Post commonly characterize Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor as liberal and Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas as conservative.[31]

Supreme Court scholars have also developed measures of the justices' political ideologies, such as the Segal-Cover score. The Segal-Cover score, which was first presented in a 1989 paper by State University of New York-Stony Brook professors Jeffrey Segal and Albert Cover, is based on an analysis of newspaper editorials published between the time of each justice's nomination to the Supreme Court and his or her confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Scores range from 0, which is the most conservative, to 100, which is the most liberal.[32]

Updated Segal-Cover scores were included in the January 17, 2021, version of The Supreme Court Justices Database, a project led by Washington University in St. Louis professors Lee Epstein and Nancy Staudt and Emory University professor Thomas Walker.[33] The January 2021 scores for the justices appear below from most liberal to most conservative.

Political ideology of Supreme Court justices[33]
Sonia Sotomayor official.jpg Elena Kagan.jpg Stephen Breyer.jpg AmyConeyBarrett.jpg ClarenceThomas.jpg Official roberts CJ.jpg NeilGorsuch.gif Alito.jpg Judge Brett Kavanaugh2.jpg
Sotomayor: 78 Kagan: 73 Breyer: 47.5 Barrett: 23 Thomas: 16 Roberts: 12 Gorsuch: 11 Alito: 10 Kavanaugh: 7


Former Chief Justices

The following individuals previously served as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court Building

Construction of the U.S. Supreme Court Building in December, 1933.

The Supreme Court first met in the Merchants Exchange Building in New York City and then moved to Independence Hall in Philadelphia when the federal government moved there in 1790. In 1800, when the federal government moved for a final time to Washington, D.C., the court met in various rooms in the Capitol Building. "Additionally, the Court convened for a short period in a private house after the British set fire to the Capitol during the War of 1812. Following this episode, the Court returned to the Capitol and met from 1819 to 1860 in a chamber now restored as the 'Old Supreme Court Chamber.' Then from 1860 until 1935, the Court sat in what is now known as the 'Old Senate Chamber,'" according to In 1929, "architect Cass Gilbert was charged by Chief Justice Taft to design 'a building of dignity and importance suitable for its use as the permanent home of the Supreme Court of the United States.'" Construction was completed in 1935, and the court moved to its permanent residence at One First Street Northeast, Washington, D.C.[34]


Inside the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to, "As is customary in American courts, the nine Justices are seated by seniority on the Bench. The Chief Justice occupies the center chair; the senior Associate Justice sits to his right, the second senior to his left, and so on, alternating right and left by seniority."[35][36][37]

See also

External links


  1. The New York Times, "On Language' Potus and Flotus," October 12, 1997
  2. 2.0 2.1, "A Brief Overview of the Supreme Court," accessed April 20, 2015
  3. United States Supreme Court, "Letter to President," January 27, 2022
  4. YouTube, "President Biden Delivers Remarks on the Retirement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer," January 27, 2022
  5. Federal Judicial Center, "Breyer, Stephen Gerald," accessed April 13, 2023
  6., "PN1783 — Ketanji Brown Jackson — Supreme Court of the United States," accessed April 7, 2022
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributable to the original source.
  8. Federal Judicial Center, "The Judiciary Act of 1789: 'An Act to establish the Judicial Courts of the United States,'" accessed February 22, 2016
  9. Federal Judicial Center, "The Judiciary Act of 1801: 'An Act to provide for the more convenient organization of the Courts of the United States,'" accessed February 22, 2016
  10. Federal Judicial Center, "Establishment of the Seventh Circuit: 'An Act establishing Circuit Courts, and abridging the jurisdiction of the district courts in the districts of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio,'" accessed February 22, 2016
  11. Federal Judicial Center, "Landmark Judicial Legislation, Establishment of Eighth and Ninth Circuits," accessed February 23, 2016
  12. Federal Judicial Center, "Landmark Judicial Legislation, Establishment of the Tenth Circuit," accessed February 23, 2016
  13. Federal Judicial Center, "Landmark Judicial Legislation, Reorganization of the Judicial Circuits," accessed February 23, 2016
  14. Federal Judicial Center, "Landmark Judicial Legislation, The Judiciary Act of 1869," accessed February 23, 2016
  15., "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)," accessed February 23, 2016
  16. Judicial Learning Center, "Judicial Independence," accessed February 22, 2016
  17., "Judicial Compensation," accessed February 22, 2016
  18. Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute, "Original jurisdiction," accessed February 22, 2016
  19. Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute, "8 U.S. Code § 1251," accessed February 22, 2016
  20. Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute, "Appellate jurisdiction," accessed February 22, 2016
  21. NBC News, "A guide to the Supreme Court nomination," accessed February 13, 2016
  22. CQ Press, "The Selection and Confirmation of Justices: Criteria and Process," accessed February 13, 2016
  23. New York Times, "Presidents, Picking Justices, Can Have Backfires," July 5, 2005
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 CRS Report for Congress, "Supreme Court Appointment Process: Roles of the President, Judiciary Committee, and Senate," July 6, 2005
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 CRS Report, "Senate Consideration of Presidential Nominations: Committee and Floor Procedure," March 9, 2015
  26. 26.0 26.1, "Text of the Oaths of Office for Supreme Court Justices," accessed February 27, 2016
  27. Supreme Court, "Code of Conduct for Justices," November 13, 2023
  28. Reuters, "Under fire, US Supreme Court unveils ethics code for justices," November 14, 2023
  29., "Circuit Assignments," accessed February 22, 2016
  30. SCOTUSblog, "New Circuit Justice Assignments," accessed February 22, 2016
  31. The Washington Post, "If Trump appoints a third justice, the Supreme Court would be the most conservative it’s been since 1950," September 22, 2020
  32. American Political Science Review, "Ideological values and the votes of U.S. Supreme Court justices," June 1989
  33. 33.0 33.1 Washington University in St. Louis, "The U.S. Supreme Court Justices Database," accessed April 19, 2021
  34., "The Supreme Court Building," accessed February 22, 2016
  35., "Courtroom Seating," accessed February 22, 2016
  36., "The Court and Its Traditions," accessed February 22, 2016
  37. SCOTUSblog, "Court, without Scalia, reopens (UPDATED)," accessed February 22, 2016