Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States, highest court of the United States, with the authority to adjudicate all cases arising under U.S. law, including treaties and constitutional matters. The number of justices is set by statute and so has varied; since 1869 the Court has comprised a chief justice and 8 associate justices, appointed for life by the president as vacancies arise. Nominees must be confirmed by majority vote of the Senate. Although theoretically above politics, the Court alone can determine the constitutionality of state and federal laws and interpret acts of Congress. Cases are brought before the Court by appeal (if, after being seen before the highest state court, there are questions concerning the constitutionality of the state's statutes) or by writ of certiorari (granted by discretion of the Court). The power of judicial review is not explicitly stated in the Constitution but is rather an operational precedent established by Chief Justice John Marshall in the case of Marbury v. Madison (1803). The Court may also overrule its own previous decisions, allowing it to change with the times. An example of this is the decision in Browny. Board of Education (1954), which declared racial segregation in education unconstitutional, overturning Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). The Court of the 1950s and 1960s, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, was generally regarded as judicially liberal; it became more conservative under Chief Justice Warren Burger (1969–86). The first woman was appointed to the Court in 1981 by Pres. Ronald Reagan. Today's Court is headed by William Rehnquist (since 1986).