[US Institutions] the Supreme Court

New episode in the US institutions series: the supreme court.

What is it ?

The US Supreme Court is, as it’s name says, is the highest judicial body in the United States. The court is composed of nine Justices who serve “for life” on the court –actually, most of them retire. It is the President who nominates the supreme justices who are confirmed by the Senate.

What does it do ?

The Supreme court is essentially and appeal court, it hears cases that have already been judge by lesser courts like federal or states courts. The Supreme Court has particularly jurisdiction over cases where parties are citizens of different states, where the federal government is involved or when a federal issue in is question.

The reference of the supreme court in its judgment is the US constitutions (and its amendments), and the respect of thereof in states legislation. That is why rulings by the supreme court can be so important. As a matter of example, during the last year, the court struck down a ban on guns in the city of Chicago (case McDonald v. Chicago, over the Second Amendment giving citizens the right to bear arms) and allowed corporation to spend money  on political advertising (case known as Citizen United, which had a lot of consequences in the recent congress elections), it is also widely accepted that issues such as same-sex-marriage will ultimately be addressed by the Supreme Court.

Anything like this in Europe ?

In the European Union, the European Court of Justice is responsible for ensuring that European treaties and regulations are applied in the member states. It’s mostly ruling on free market/free movement issues. It is one of the best advocate of European Integration in the sense that its rulings are guided only by EU laws and treaties. However, the ECJ is much less visible that the US Supreme court can be.

The Council of Europe (not to be mistaken with European Union) has created the European Court of Human Rights, which is a supra-national court set by the European Convention of Human Rights. Its role is to rule over case where citizen who feel their rights under the Convention are not respected. In consequence, the rulings of the ECHR are much more visible to the public that those from the ECJ.

Ultimately, one can say the fact that European Union lacks a Constitution makes it difficult for the EU to put forth a judicial body that would defend and interpret such rules – ruling over treaties is not the same as ruling over a constitution,


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