U.S. Supreme Court
About the Court
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Understanding the Court System From Paul S. Reed, Law Guide
"God save the United States and this Honorable Court, chants the Marshal as the U.S. Supreme Court enters the courtroom to hear arguments and issue some 150 annual major interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. What is a day in the Supreme Court like?. And, what does "Oyez" mean, anyway?
The Supreme Court's Term
Each week, the Justices must also examine as many as 130 new petitions asking the Court to review the judgments of state and federal courts. After reading both the petitions and records of the lower courts, the Justices decide which cases will be heard by the Supreme Court with oral arguments by attorneys. Approximately 7,000 petitions are filed with the Court in the course of a Term.
A Day in Court - the Justices Enter
The Justices are seated by seniority. The Chief Justice sits in the middle, with the most senior Associate Justice to his or her right, the second most senior to his or her left, and so on, alternating right and left by seniority.
In keeping with the oldest traditions of the Supreme Court, white quills (as were once used as ink pens) are placed on the attorneys' tables each day the Court is in session.
The Justices also perform the traditional "conference handshake" that began during the late 19th century under Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller. All of the Justices shake hands as a reminder that their differences of opinion would not prevent them from focusing on justice and proper conduct of the judicial process.
Before presentations of arguments, the Court takes care of some administrative business. On Monday mornings, they release the Order List, a public report of Court actions stating what future cases the Court will and will not consider, and announcing the names of attorneys newly granted permission to present cases before the Supreme Court. ("Admission to the Court Bar.") Opinions are typically released on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings and on the third Monday of each month, when the Court takes the Bench but no arguments are heard.
A Day in Court - Let the Arguments Begin
As each case is called before the court, lawyers for each side are allowed only 30 minutes to present their argument. As many as 24 cases may be presented in each two-week sitting with an average of from one to three cases heard per day.
Since the majority of cases involve the review of a lower court's decision, there is no jury present and no witnesses are called. While there in no testimony from witnesses, the Justices almost always pose questions to both the lawyers and to other Justices. The Justices' questions often raise hypothetical constitutional situations related to the case being argued. Justices often ask questions designed to point out future implications of their decision.
Lawyers consider arguing a case before the Supreme Court to be the highlight of their careers and are presented a souvenir white quill pen by the Court to commemorate their appearance.
After a one-hour lunch recess at noon, the Justices continue to hear arguments until 3 pm.
For cases argued on Monday, the Justices vote on it on Wednesday. Votes on cases argued Tuesday and Wednesday are cast on Friday. The senior Justice voting with the majority assigns the job of writing the majority opinion and the senior Justice voting with the minority chooses who will write the minority opinion. While all Justices can add his or her own statements, the majority opinion stands as the final decision of the court.
The Court continues on this schedule for the entire Term until all cases ready for argument have been heard and decided. During May and June, the Court meets only to announce orders and opinions. The Court typically recesses during the last week of June, with that week being filled with a flurry of decisions. While about 150 cases of major importance are decided by the Court each year, only about three-quarters of them are announced in fully published opinions.
During the summer, the Justices continue to consider new petitions for review and prepare for cases to be presented during the coming fall.
Contacting the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
OYEZ is pronounced "o-yay" or "o-yez" or "o-yes." It is used three times in succession to introduce the opening of a court of law. The origin of the word Oyez is Middle English, from Anglo-Norman, hear ye, imperative plural of oyer, to hear. from Latin audire. -- Source: The Oyez Project - Northwestern University
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