Government Information

The U.S. Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United States is the court of last resort in the United States. Many of the cases the Court reviews center around the U.S. Constitution.  This guide is designed to provide some brief background information on the history of the Court, the Justices of the Court, and the Court's practice and decisions.

Article III, § 1 of the U.S. Constitution provides that "[t]he 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." In accordance with this constitutional provision, the Supreme Court of the United States was created under the Judiciary Act of 1789, ch. 20, 1 Stat. 73[2] with six Justices. The Court first assembled on February 1, 1790 in New York City, which was then the nation's Capital. The first cases, however, did not reach the Supreme Court until its second year. The earliest sessions were devoted to organizational proceedings. The Court expanded to nine members in 1869 (Judiciary Act of 1869, ch. 22, 16 Stat. 44[3]).

Article III, § 2 provides the Supreme Court with its judicial power.

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 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.

28 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq.[4] and other special statutes confer jurisdiction on the Supreme Court.