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A Basic Guide to the Duties and Role of the United States Supreme Court

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 8/2/2012

Are you wondering what are the duties of the Supreme Court? Here, you will find an introduction to the United States Supreme Court, including historical traditions observed today, member duties and roles of the court.

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    What are the duties of the Supreme Court? The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court of the country. The Supreme Court is granted power through the Constitution. Within the power of the Supreme Court is the ability to monitor the actions of Congress and the President of the United States of America.

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    Members

    Members of the Supreme Court are known as officers and justices. The Chief Justice is at the top of the power chain. The duties of the Chief Justice include presiding at oral arguments, presiding at deliberations and administrative duties. More specifically, the Chief Justice oversees time limits of arguments within the court, approving the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and often writes the opinions of the members on each case.

    Currently, eight justices comprise the Supreme Court. Justices of this court must be nominated by the President, but the Senate plays an important part in the assignment of each justice. Court officers assist Supreme Court justices. These members are appointed by the justices except for the positions of clerk, reporter of decisions, marshal and librarian, which are appointed by the Chief Justice. The remaining court officers are counselor to the Chief Justice, court counsel, curator, director of information technology and public information officer.

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    Tradition

    The Supreme Court mostly follows tradition. The first meeting of the court was in 1790. Many of the procedures performed at this time are still practiced today. As per tradition, the seating arrangement of the justices is uniform. The justices sit in order of seniority beginning with the Chief Justice in the center with the Associate Justice to the right. The remaining justices are ordered by alternating left to right by seniority.

    Traditional apparel is still worn in the Supreme Court. Since the 1800’s justices have worn black robes when in session. Some lawyers also follow traditional apparel guidelines. Government lawyers who attend the Supreme Court usually wear what is known as morning clothes. Morning clothing is considered to be the most formal day wear. This type of clothing includes a grey or black coat, gray trousers with thin stripes, knee length socks and oxford shoes.

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    Duties and Roles

    What are the duties of the Supreme Court? Each member has their own roles and responsibilities with the court. The Supreme Court is in session from the beginning of October until early July. The time the court is in session is known as a term. During each term the justices are involved in sitting and recessing. During sitting, similar to other judges, the justices hear cases and deliver opinions and verdicts. During recessing, the justices write opinions which are somewhat lengthy documents which state a position and reasoning for such position on a case as either for or against and issue or individual. Under Article III of the Constitution, the power of the Supreme Court extends to all law and equity cases arising from the Constitution, laws and treaties of the USA.

    As the highest court in the country, the Supreme Court is also an appellate court. This means that appeals made in lower courts may be heard within the Supreme Court. Decisions made by the justices on these cases are considered final. The Supreme Court has also been active in outlining policies and procedures for the lower courts of the United States. Furthermore, the Supreme Court handles disputes between the states in America.

    Outside the walls of the courtroom, the duties of the members of the Supreme Court extend. The Chief Justice, for example is responsible for swearing in the new President of the United States of America during inauguration. The Chief Justice also serves as Chancellor of the Smithsonian and as head of other museums.

    Within the courtroom, the role of the Supreme Court is ultimately to uphold the law. As the highest court in the nation, the Supreme Court is responsible for the interpretation of laws and the interpretation of the Constitution.