The United States Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch. The purpose of this institution is to ensure that laws and decisions made within the United States are constitutional. As is true of any institution, people must be employed to carry out the duties and responsibilities. A Supreme Court Justice is a judge employed to decipher laws and ensure that the United States remains a land guided and governed by its most important body of law—the Constitution.
There are two types of legal systems in the United States: federal and state. Each state has its own body of laws, and its own court system. This means that each state also has a supreme court. Similar to the federal system, state supreme courts ensure laws and decisions made within their states are legal based on state constitutions. Presiding over matters in such a court are state supreme court justices.
By focusing on the duties of a United States Supreme Court justice, one may develop an understanding of the similar roles of a state supreme court justice. The United States Supreme Court has nine justices. Eight of these are associate justices. The remaining one is chief justice of the United States.
The first duty of a supreme court justice is to decide what cases should be considered by the court. This is done by determining whether or not the proposed cases contain questions of constitutional violations. Almost all cases that come before supreme court justices are appeals, meaning the cases were decided in lower courts, but one party was dissatisfied with the decision.
Only when matters of the Constitution arise does the Supreme Court have the power to reconsider another court’s decision. There are, however, a few instances when the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction and will be the first court to hear a case. Before deciding to do so, the Supreme Court justices must decide that the case is indeed within their jurisdiction or involves a constitutional question.
Once supreme court justices choose the cases they will decide, they brief themselves, or familiarize themselves with the cases. Afterward, the lawyers involved in the cases are usually given the opportunity to present oral arguments to the supreme court justices. Although supreme court justices are judges, it is important to remember that they do not hear testimonies from witnesses and hold normal courtroom sessions.
Following oral arguments, the supreme court justices go into a private conference and a preliminary vote is done. After the vote, the supreme court justices spend their time researching and arguing the case in written documents called opinions. These opinions are circulated amongst the colleagues. Finally, a vote is taken, the case is decided and a written decision is issued.