"The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office."
"The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States; between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.
"In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make. (...)"
As with all federal courts, the jurisdiction of the court is limited. While the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in a few cases such as suits between states, most of its work consists of appellate review of cases from state supreme courts or from lower federal courts.
Its jurisdiction is limited by Article III of the U.S. Constitution to "cases" and "controversies" arising under federal law. Thus, for example, cases that arise from the state supreme courts may only be heard by the United States Supreme Court if they present an issue of federal law. Where the state court decided the case on an independent and adequate state ground, the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to hear it.
In addition, although the Constitution states the outer limits of the court's power, it also gives Congress the ability to limit its jurisdiction. Although Congress has authorized review of lower court decisions by direct appeal in limited circumstances, most cases are brought to the court by petition for a writ of certiorari, which the court has discretion to grant or deny. If the court grants certiorari, the case is placed on its calendar for briefing and oral argument. If the court denies certiorari, it does not decide the merits of the case, and the lower court's decision remains in force.
the number of the reporter volume in which the decision was published
"U.S.", signifying United States Reports, the official reporter for the U.S. Supreme Court
the page number where the decision begins
the page number(s) of the specific material cited
the year the case was decided
The listed names are given in the format "Petitioner v. Respondent", where the petitioner is the party that requested certiorari after having lost the previous decision in the case, and the respondent is the party having prevailed in the lower court. Where the case has come to the court by an appeal of right, as in what is called "probable jurisdiction," the appealing party (the "appellant") is named first. In cases involving a federal agency (for example, the United States Department of Justice), the head of the agency is often named as a party to the case, such as Ashcroft v. ACLU. The v. stands for versus, Latin for "against." In speaking, it is sometimes read as "vee", sometimes as "versus", and sometimes as "against."
In addition to the official United States Reports, Supreme Court cases are also reported in the Supreme Court Reporter (S.Ct), published by West Publishing Company and including cases decided since 1882, and the United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition first and second editions (L.Ed. and L.Ed.2d), with cases since 1790 published by the Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Company. Both include everything in the official United States Reports as well as editorial features such as annotations and topic headers.
A case cite will often list in a string cite where the case can be found in all three reporters, as in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147 (1973).
The Court achieved its current influence in the life of the United States during the tenure of the Chief Justice John Marshall. He was appointed to the office by John Adams in the final days of Adams' presidency. As a political opponent of the Jeffersonian Republicans, Marshall delivered a number of opinions that they found uncongenial, strengthening the Judicial branch at the expense of the Executive branch and asserting the Court's monopoly on the interpretation of the Constitution. Foremost among these cases was Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803). On February 20, 1809 a decision by the Supreme Court stated that the power of the federal government was greater than any individual state.
John Marshall continued in office long enough to serve as Chief Justice during President Andrew Jackson's term of office. His court found the policy of Indian Removal to be unconstitutional, but Jackson replied: "John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it." Jackson was later responsible for the Trail of Tears, in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. At the conclusion of United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974), many feared that Richard Nixon would refuse to turn over the Watergate tapes and become the second president to defy the court. Nixon, however, complied.
Congress determines the number of justices on the Court. Although the size of the Supreme Court has been set at nine for many years, it has been smaller in the past. On February 5, 1937 President Franklin Roosevelt proposed to increase the size of the Court so he could appoint justices who would support the constitutionality of his New Deal programs. Even though much of the country approved of the New Deal, they did not approve of his attempts to "pack the court," and the plan failed on July 22 when the United States Senate voted down the plan.
Several years ago, the Supreme Court delivered a highly controversial 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), that ended weeks of bitter legal maneuvering between lower courts following the 2000 presidential election.