just some thoughts

Why has the Supreme Court been in the news so much?

Anyone who frequently reads the news knows that our nine Supreme Court justices have been busy lately. It seems like important Supreme Court decisions have become a daily occurrence.. Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s personal trainer revealed she ups the intensity of her workouts when she is pressed for time, alluding to the busy schedule the justices are tasked with. First, mega props to Ginsburg for being 87 years old and still being more active than most unemployed Americans. Second, I think I, like many others, are wondering why the Supreme Court seems to be making more decisions, or at least making more headlines, these past few weeks.

While the average person can comprehend a sentence summary of a Supreme Court decision, I can admit that before researching this article, I knew little about the process involved in scheduling, picking, and deciding Supreme Court cases. Here’s a quick beginner’s guide to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court consists of nine justices. Each justice is appointed for life by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The Supreme Court has the ability to be the only court to hear and decide on a case but more frequently questions decisions that have been made in lower courts that feel worthy of national attention or relate to the president. Lower courts petition to have their cases brought to the Supreme Court, requiring 4/9 of the justices to approve before beginning the trial. From among 9,000 cases that are petitioned, only about 80 are actually accepted by the justices.

Once a case is accepted, the petitioners compose oral and written briefings describing their side of the case. After these are presented, the justices reconvene and debate amongst themselves. The justices’ hear, decide, and debrief on these cases from October to around late June or early July, before they begin their summer recess. They hold public hearings, but the conferences used to settle the decisions remain private. Although these hearings maintain a schedule, the actual decisions themselves can be announced anytime throughout the term before summer recess. Majority is required to formalize a decision, with the senior justice legally transcribing their final opinion. 

Don’t worry, we can take a break from the hard facts and propose some simple reasoning as to why the Court has been up and at’em lately. Typically, if a case receives a unanimous vote from the justices, its opinion will be released earlier in the term. And vice versa. Surprisingly, a majority of the Supreme Court’s decisions are unanimous despite 5 Republican to 4 Democrat justices. These tend to be bipartisan issues. Bipartisan meaning both Republicans and Democrats alike would agree. Partisan meaning the one political party is heavily in favor/against the issue at hand.

As you can imagine, the justices take longer to decide on partisan issues, especially when the government or president is one of the groups at stake. Two of the decided cases within the past week have concerned President Trump. Considering the serious and impactful nature of these cases, the decisions haven’t endured as simple a thought process as some others. Judges are allowed to revise their opinions throughout their conferences and discussions, leading to the scales swaying in different directions frequently before opinions are released. Presumably, Trump-related cases involved intricate debate and discussion as biases, party lines, and endorsements are at stake, not just the issue at hand. Since recess may begin any day now, these lengthy debates must be finalized. The Supreme Court is acting a little bit like a high school student who has procrastinated writing their tough and complicated essay until the night before. To ensure they receive a well-deserved summer recess, the judges have begun releasing the opinions concerning the most debated cases of the term.

Considering the upcoming election, many of the decisions will impact the nominees’ promises and voters’ perspectives. While the justices get to relax this summer, both Trump and Biden, and maybe Kanye, will be critically thinking about the court’s decisions this year. Trump’s involvement in these cases adds an extra layer of substance to these opinions and will definitely be brought up in future debates, tweets, and speeches. The Supreme Court’s complex process is created to protect the rights of the people, even at the stake of our POTUS’s reputation.

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