SCOTUS Primer (all about the Supreme Court and upcoming decisions)

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Note: I'm back in action for the time being!

We are all on pins and needles in this current hellscape of SCOTUS decisions. Today let's do a lil refresher on what we all forgot from high school civics about how the Supreme Court works and who these people are (remember, I am not an expert, just an avid googler).

What IS the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court is the nation's highest court. It is considered an appellate court, meaning it rules on opinions already made by lower courts.

Who are the justices?

Justices are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. 

  • John G. Roberts (Chief Justice): Nominated by W in 2005.
  • Samuel Alito: Nominated by W in 2006.
  • Clarence Thomas: Nominated by HW in 1991 (tune into this season of Slow Burn to learn more about this dude).
  • Elena Kagan: Nominated by Obama in 2010.
  • Sonia Sotomayor: Nominated by Obama in 2009.
  • Neil Gorsuch: Nominated by Trump in 2017.
  • Brett Kavanaugh: Nominated by Trump in 2018.
  • Amy Coney Barrett: Nominated by Trump in 2020. 
  • Ketanji Brown Jackson: Nominated by Biden in 2022.

Why are all the decisions coming out at once?

SCOTUS sessions run from the first Monday of October until late June or early July. This week is the last week we can expect decisions from SCOTUS so they're all rollllin on out now.

How do decisions get to Supreme Court?

  1. SCOTUS is asked to review 7,000 cases each year, of these they select 100 - 150. They are more likely to take cases where the lower courts had disagreements.
  2. Each justice has 3-4 law clerks who review a portion of the 7,000 cases, create memos, and make recommendations.
  3. The justices meet to decide cases to hear and 4 out of 9 must vote "yes" for a case to move forward. 

What is the decision process?

Each case has a "petitioner" (the party appealing the lower court's decision) and a "respondent" (the party upholding the lower court's decision)

Once a case is accepted ("added to the docket"), the petitioner and respondent file <50 page summaries (briefs) of their arguments. Sometimes other parties can file briefs too, like the federal government.

SCOTUS reviews the briefs.

From October to April: 

  1. Lawyers for each side are given 30 minutes to orally argue their case. Usually this is an intro followed by clarifying questions from the SCOTUS justices. 
  2. The justices have private conferences (ONLY justices no one else) twice/week to discuss their votes ("affirm" or "reverse" lower court decisions).
  3. A majority (five of nine) judges equals a decision
  4. Opinions are drafted and circulated internally. Sometimes preliminary votes switch up during this time -- "votes" are not final until the opinions are made public.
  5. Opinions are made public
Who gets picked to write opinions and why are there multiple per decision?

SCOTUS releases an opinion for every decision. These are documents that detail the decision, the reasoning, the facts, and convey the weight of the decision. The Chief Justice assigns opinions and makes sure everyone has the same amount of opportunities to write majority opinions. There are different types of opinions:

  • Majority Opinion: Details the winning side.
  • Dissenting Opinion: The justice(s) who vote with the minority can write dissenting opinions about why they disagree with the majority.
  • Concurring Opinion: A justice writes this when they vote with the majority but don't fully agree with the legal reasoning in the Majority Opinion.



The Steps Supreme Court Takes to Make a Decision (

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