The Supreme Court was authorized by Article III of the Constitution. It says, "the 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." Congress decided how many justices the Supreme Court would have. The Supreme Court met for the first time in 1790.
The Supreme Court is the guardian and interpreter of the Constitution. It has the final say when it comes to the law. The court has many important powers. One is the ability to declare laws unconstitutional. This is known as the power of judicial review. Judicial review allows the Supreme Court to check the power of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. The court can also curtail the powers of state governments.
In most of its cases, the Supreme Court acts as an appeals court. That is, it reviews cases that were already decided in lower courts. Some of those cases come to the Supreme Court from U.S. appellate courts. Others come from state supreme courts. The Supreme Court confirms or overrules the decisions of these lower courts.
More than 7,000 cases make their way to the Supreme Court every year. But the court decides fewer than 250 of them. The justices decide only cases that involve important issues. Many of the cases have to do with constitutional issues. Others have to do with the laws of the United States.
At the hearings, lawyers sometimes give oral arguments. The justices can then ask them questions. The lawyers may also submit briefs, or summaries, of their positions. The justices discuss the cases and eventually vote. At least five of the nine justices must agree on the final decision.
The court's decisions are final. They serve as guidelines for every other court in the nation. Supreme Court rulings can be changed in only two ways. The Supreme Court itself can change a ruling. Or a ruling can be changed by amending the Constitution.