Choosing a New Justice


IMAGE: Gary Martin
Current U.S. Supreme Court justices are: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts and Sonia Sotomayor. IMAGE: Gary Martin

Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens is retiring in June 2010. This means that President Obama must nominate someone to replace him, and that person must be approved by the U.S. Senate. In the last few decades, the Supreme Court has become more conservative. Will Obama continue the trend toward a more conservative court in order to please people who are conservative? Or will Obama’s new choice be a more liberal judge?

>>Click here to learn about Elena Kagan, President Obama’s pick!


Key Terms

Conservative: A person who believes in the rights of individuals to make money and have more property. Generally supports small government, a big military and lower taxes. Some political parties that tend to be conservative: Republican, Constitution

Liberal: A person who believes in protecting the rights of all people to basic needs, including health care, education and a job with decent pay. Supports the role of government to protect rights and equalities. Some political parties that tend to be liberal: Democratic, Green, Working Families


What is the Supreme Court?

As the highest court in the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court makes legal decisions that affect people nationwide. There are nine justices (judges) who sit on this court. They can declare laws unconstitutional. The Court gets thousands of requests for hearings each year. The justices choose the ones they think are most important to decide.


Some Recent Major Supreme Court Decisions

Decision: Corporations Can Spend Freely on Elections
Date: January 2010

IMAGE: Gary Martin
IMAGE: Gary Martin

Corporations are allowed to spend as much as they want to help elect and defeat candidates for office. The decision overturns a law that limited how much corporations could spend on elections. The Court said this law violated the free speech rights of corporations.

Decision: Prisoners Cannot Be Held Without Trial
Date: June 2008

Prisoners held by the U.S. government at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, cannot be held without charges against them or a court hearing. Even though President Obama promised to close the Guantánamo Bay prison by January 2010, he continues to hold prisoners there without charge.

Decision: Programs to Integrate Schools are Unconstitutional
Date: June 2007

This decision is about programs in Louisville, KY, and Seattle, WA, that tried to integrate schools (keep a mix of ethnically diverse students). The Court said that considering students’ race in deciding where students go to school across a district is unconstitutional.

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