Understanding the judicial branch

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The judicial branch of the United States is the law of the land. They enforce the Constitution and make sure that justice is served throughout this nation. While the other two branches of United States government are elected, the Judicial Branch is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Who is in charge of the judicial branch?

The Constitution lays out in Article III, ยง1, that the Supreme Court is the only required part of the federal judiciary. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country and is the head of this branch. While Article III gives Congress significant discretion in regards to the federal judiciary, the Supreme Court is put in power when it comes to the law. The Supreme Court is composed of a single chief justice and several associate justices. The number of presiding justices on this court is fixed by Congress.

Filling the Supreme Court

When a vacancy on the Supreme Court presents itself, the power to nominate a candidate is vested in the President currently holding office. All Justices hold their seats under life tenure, meaning they either retire or a vacancy comes as a result of a death, as seen with the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Steps to becoming a Supreme Court Justice

There are four steps to becoming a Supreme Court Justice after you have your Juris Doctorate and a successful law career.

  1. The President nominates a candidate that he or she believes is qualified.
  2. The candidate attends a hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee (a select portion of the full Senate sits on this committee).
  3. The full Senate then debates and votes on the nomination at the recommendation of the Judiciary Committee.
  4. If the Senate approves of the nomination, then the candidate takes the Oath of Office. If the Senate rejects the nomination, the process starts all over.

Special privileges

Each branch of government is dependent on one another, but the Judicial Branch has certain powers that the other two branches do not. The particular power that the Judicial Branch has that distinguishes it from other branches is judicial review. This power is the doctrine under which any action that either the executive or legislative branch takes is subject to review by the Supreme Court. This means that the Judicial Branch has the power to:

  • Review all laws
  • Rule a law unconstitutional
  • Deny passage of a law

Checks and balances

The division of the United States government into three branches creates a system of checks and balances. This system was set up by the Constitution to ensure that no one branch becomes too powerful.

Even with this particular power, the other two branches check and balance the Judicial Branch through the process of nominating and appointing Supreme Court justices when the time presents itself. This system gives the other two branches a strong say in who will serve on the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court (Judicial Branch) has the ultimate say in what is constitutional.

The Judicial Branch has proven its ability to review law and ensure the government of the United States functions at a high level. By providing an invaluable way to check and balance the other branches of government, it allows us to make sure laws are constitutional. The Judicial Branch continues to be an extremely important body for determining the law of the land.

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