Many parents dream of their child one day becoming a doctor, the president of the United States or a U.S. Supreme Court justice. These justices shape history and U.S. law by hearing many important and controversial cases and issuing their rulings.
The U.S. Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and a set number of associate justices as determined by Congress. Since 1948, that number has remained at nine. All justices have a lifetime appointment with the court.
The U.S. Supreme Court annual term begins on the first Monday in October and continues until late June or early July. During the term, justices hear cases during two-week sittings and write opinions and review cases during two-week recesses.
Review of Cases
An attorney seeking U.S. Supreme Court review must petition the court to have his case heard. Justices jointly consider cases and determine which ones they will hear. The court hears a small percentage of the cases with which it is presented.
Hearing of Cases
During a U.S. Supreme Court hearing, each side's attorney is allowed 30 minutes to present his case. Since the justices almost always are reviewing the decision of a lower court, there is no jury and no witnesses are called to the stand.
During recesses, justices review briefs and discuss the argued cases. For each case, a majority vote is taken. The most senior judge in the majority writes a case's opinion and the court releases its decision. Other justices may write concurring or dissenting opinions, which do not affect the court's decision. In rare cases, the court may release a per curiam opinion--an opinion issued by the justices as a group, with no individual justice claiming authorship.
Experience and Salary
Current membership in a state bar is a prerequisite for becoming a Supreme Court justice. Many justices worked their way up through the legal system, perhaps starting as prosecuting attorney, then taking positions as judges in local, appellate and federal courts. As of 2009, the chief justice was paid $223,500 per year, while associate justices received $213,900.