AQA GOV4A The Supreme Court Revision Notes

Revision notes for the AQA GOV4A topic of The Supreme Court and the Protection of Civil Liberties.

Includes significant cases regarding key political issues.

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The Supreme Court and the
Protection of Rights and Liberties
Federal Courts
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the federal judiciary as established
in Article III of the Constitution. The passing of the Judiciary Act 1789 created:
13 Courts of Appeals (Circuit Courts) ­ 11 are spread across regions
with one other based in Washington DC and a final Federal Circuit Court
94 District Courts ­ Immediately below the Circuit Courts
The majority of federal cases begin in the District Courts. From there cases can
be appealed to one of the Circuit Courts and following that, the Supreme Court.
In order to be heard in the Supreme Court, 4/9 Supreme Justices must agree to
hear it. 96% of cases are rejected as the Court only hears cases that is believes
are of major constitutional significance.
Membership of the Supreme Court
Justice Date Appointed President Appointing Ideology
John Roberts 2005 George W. Bush (R) Strict Constructi
Antonin Scalia 1986 Ronald Reagan (R) Strict Constructi
Anthony Kennedy 1988 Ronald Reagan (R) Strict Constructionis
Clarence Thomas 1991 George H.W. Bush (R) Strict Constructi
Ruth Bader Ginsberg 1993 Bill Clinton (D) Loose Construct
Stephen Breyer 1994 Bill Clinton (D) Loose Construct
Samuel Alito 2006 George W. Bush (R) Strict Constructi
Sonia Sotomayor 2009 Barack Obama (D) Loose Construct
Elena Kagan 2010 Barack Obama (D) Loose Construct
There are nine members of the Supreme Court: one chief justice and eight
associate justices:
The number of justices is fixed by Congress and has remained
unchanged since 1869 ­ Roosevelt attempted to change the number of
members with the 1937 Judicial Procedures Reform Bill
Justices are appointed by the president and confirmed by a simple
majority in the Senate ­ Robert Bork (appointed by Reagan in 1988)
was rejected by the Senate, receiving just 42 votes in favour

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Justices hold office for life "during good behaviour) ­ This means that
they can be impeached and removed from office by Congress or leave
the court only by voluntary retirement or death. Abe Fortas resigned in
1968 to prevent an impending impeachment.
Appointment Process
1. A vacancy must occur for a president to be able to appoint a justice, on
average this happens every 2 years but during Jimmy Carter's 4 year
term (1977-81) no vacancies occurred. Similarly, no vacancies occurred
between 1994 and 2005.…read more

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Recruitment Pools
Typically, the president has four main pools of recruitment to choose from
when appointing a new Supreme Court justice:
Federal Appeals Court (Clarence Thomas 1991/Sonia Sotomayor 2009)
State Courts (Sandra Day O'Connor 1981-2006)
Executive Branch (Elena Kagan 2010, Solicitor General)
Academia (Doug Ginsberg 1987, later withdrew)
Philosophy of Judges
Presidents often look for justices who share their judicial philosophy.…read more

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Judicial Activism and Judicial Restraint
Judicial activism ­ An approach to judicial decision-making which holds that a
judge should use his/her position to promote desirable ends.
An activist court aims to lead the way in the reform of American Society. The
Warren Court (under Earl Warren 1953-1969) was led by liberals and made
landmark decisions during the Civil Rights Movement such as Brown v Board of
Education (1954).…read more

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Amendment means
today. Likewise, the Court can determine whether the 1st Amendment right of
"freedom of speech" applies to the Internet. Former Chief Justice Charles Evans
stated "we are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges
say it is".…read more

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Snyder v Phelps 2011 ­ SC upheld the right of the infamous Westboro
Baptist Church to stage anti-gay protests at military funerals
Right to Bear Arms:
United States v Lopez 1995 ­ SC declared the 1990 Gun-Free School
Zones Act unconstitutional stating that Congress had exceeded its
power under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. This case had clear
implications for the scope of federal government power over state and
local jurisdiction.…read more

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Checks on the Supreme Court
By Congress:
The Senate confirms all Supreme Court appointments ­ Rejected Bork in
1988 (42 for ­ 58 against)
Impeachment ­ Abe Fortas resigned in 1968 to prevent pending
Congress can alter number of justices on the Court ­ Difficulty of this
highlighted by failure of 1937 Judicial Procedures Reform Bill
Congress can initiate constitutional amendments ­16th Amendment
overturned SC's judgement that imposing federal income tax was
unconstitutional.…read more


Old Sir

This is a useful, mostly factual survey of the make up and work of the Supreme Court. It could serve students as an effective re-introduction. They should check the latest make-up of the court in order to note any changes since this was posted. Most importantly, students should move on to learn more examples of nominees (successful and unsuccessful), controversial judgements, especially through reading well-known minority judgement reports, where Justices have had significantly different views.

Former Member

Love it - thank you so much!

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