The Supreme Court is the most powerful court of law in the United States. It was authorized by Article III, Section 1 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."
The court is made up of nine members, one chief justice and eight associate justices. Each is nominated by the president and must be confirmed by the Senate. Once a justice is appointed, he or she may serve for life. A justice can only be removed for serious wrongdoing. The current Supreme Court justices are John G. Roberts, Jr. (chief justice), Anthony M. Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, Antonin Scalia, Elena Kagan, Stephen G. Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Samuel A. Alito, Jr. The death of Justice Scalia on February 13, 2016, left a vacant seat on the court.
The Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution. It has the power of judicial review. This means the court has the authority to overturn any act of government (local, state, or federal) that, in its opinion, violates the Constitution. Chief Justice John Marshall was the first to claim the power of judicial review. In Marbury v. Madison (1803), he made it clear that the Constitution, as the "superior, paramount law," is binding on all branches of government.
The Supreme Court heads the judicial branch of the federal government. The judicial branch shares power with the legislative branch (Congress) and the executive branch (headed by the president). By making the judicial branch independent, the Founders protected the courts from being dominated by either Congress or the president.
The court's rulings (decisions) are authoritative and final. They serve as guidelines for every other court in the nation. Supreme Court rulings can be changed only by constitutional amendment or by the Supreme Court itself.