69. How Does the Supreme Court Work?

Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution establishes the Supreme Court of the United States, where nine Supreme Court Judges reside. These judges have a huge responsibility because their decisions will be used to interpret the Constitution for years to come. Join Connor and Brittany as they explain how the Supreme Court works and why they play such an important role in our country.



Here’s a transcript of our conversation:


Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: Hi, Connor.

Connor: In past episodes, you and I have talked about the different branches of government, and what we haven’t yet talked about is the Supreme Court, at least as we’re talking about the federal government, the national government. This is the third branch we’ve talked about the executive, like the president and the whole executive branch of all the employees doing the day-to-day work, being bureaucrats. And then we’ve talked about Congress, which is the legislative branch. and so today we’re gonna talk about the judicial branch, namely the Supreme Court, and then there’s lots of courts underneath that. circuit courts and district courts and appeals courts, and all,

Brittany: All Sorts Of courts.

Connor: All sorts of courts, And so the Supreme Court is what a lot of people are familiar with. they understand kind of who they are and what they do. now the Supreme Court, it’s made up of, a handful of judges who have a lifetime appointment. And that means when they find their way onto the Supreme Court, when they’re nominated by the President, and when,  they’re confirmed,  by the Senate. When the Senate says, okay, yep, you can, be a Supreme Court Justice, then they are now appointed for life. And so the people on the Supreme Court typically are there until they die or close to it. and that can be decades, especially if they’re appointed when they’re younger. Now, these are lawyers. These are lawyers who have a lot of experience. typically they were also judges in lower courts. And, they kind of worked their way up and got, you know, promoted or appointed or elected to hire offices. And, you know, they caught the attention of the President’s team. And so then the president nominated them. And you often have a battle, right? Because whoever the president is, if there’s a vacancy, if there’s room on the Supreme Court, then the president gets to nominate them. So if you’ve got a President Obama, he’s probably going to appoint a judge who is more left-leaning or more in favor of government control or, you know, pro-abortion or whatever the hot topic is. And then if you’ve got someone like a President Trump or a bush, you know, back in the day, they’re typically going to appoint a judge who’s more conservative and who rules on things to say in favor of the Second Amendment and guns, or maybe against abortion and things like that. So, the people on the Supreme Court end up being politically influenced in the sense that they’re appointed by, these different presidents who have different backgrounds. And so you end up with a court that’s usually kind of split, right? Usually, it’s like five to four, you know, or four to five, some of these rulings where maybe four of the justices are more, you know, left-leaning or liberal, and maybe the five are conservative. And then it usually kind of goes back and forth like that. Now, Brittany, when you think of the Supreme Court, in terms of like the different branches of government, do you think that the Supreme Court is weak? Or do you think that they’re strong and Why?

Brittany: I think they are very strong. and because they’re kind of the final say. I mean, you know, the legislature, they can go back and forth and argue about what should or should not be a law. But once somebody challenges that, when somebody takes that to courts and it gets appealed and eventually perhaps gets to the Supreme Court, what the Supreme Court says is final, I mean, they’re like your parents, you know, like I know in my house, leeways, like my mom always had the final say. Like, my dad could say something, but my mom was the one who was like when my mom said it, we knew that was the law. That’s how I feel about Supreme Court. And that’s a big responsibility because a lot of times you can’t overturn that case until they’re willing to hear it again, and they probably won’t for decades to come. So this is a very big responsibility because a lot of times what they rule, you know, becomes what we listen to, what we adhere to for years to come. So I think it’s, I don’t wanna say it’s too much power, but it’s a lot of power. So with great power comes responsibility,

Connor: It is a lot of power. And it’s interesting to look back in the past, at, you know, how some of these Supreme Court decisions have been made. I believe it was, I’m going off of memory cuz I’m just now thinking of this, but I believe it was Andrew Jackson who as president, was told about a Supreme Court ruling, that he didn’t like. He, his administration had done something and the Supreme Court said it was, you know, unconstitutional or illegal or whatever. And, I may be wrong on the person, I’m pretty sure it was Andrew Jackson, but his reply basically was, oh, well that’s nice, let them enforce it. In other words, you know, it’s a Supreme Court ruling, but really it’s called an opinion, and it’s up to the government to enforce that opinion. these lawyers in black robes do not of themselves have any power, in terms of like enforcing their opinions. It really comes up, down to the executive branch and law enforcement, for example, to be enforcing the law. So it’s kind of an interesting thing like, you know if the Supreme Court were to rule on something and everyone ignored it or, disobeyed it, what would that look like? There’s another twist, Brittany, on what you just said in terms of it being kind of the final layer of the land when it comes to our rights. it’s actually kind of the opposite. And here’s what I mean by that. So we’ve talked before about the Fourth Amendment, which deals with our privacy, right? That if the government wants to, access my computer, for example, they have to get a warrant from a judge. And so that’s kind of what the Fourth Amendment says. Now, as new technologies have come out, like cell phones or you know, Instagram or uploading things to the cloud, the courts have had to kind of tackle those questions and say, okay, well how does the Fourth Amendment apply to this? And how does the Fourth Amendment apply to that? And so what happens is the Supreme Court in these various cases will tell the police, they’ll tell law enforcement, Hey, in order to protect these people’s rights, you have to, you know, not search their phone unless you know you have a judge’s opinion or you’re not allowed to search someone’s phone after you’ve, you know, frisked them, right? Like if the police stop you on the street and they see your phone, the Supreme Court has said that you’re not allowed to just search through someone’s phone like that unless you have, you know, like a warrant to be able to go in and access it. So the court has said these different things when it comes to our right to privacy, but the way it actually works is that’s what’s called a floor, right? Think of it like a floor versus a ceiling. So generally speaking, what you were saying, like abortion is legal or some of these other things, right? That’s kind of a ceiling that’s like, Hey, everyone has to, you know, be under this, is the limit for everyone. But when it comes to, our individual rights and the power of government, it’s actually a floor. In other words, the Supreme Court will tell the police, Hey, you’re not allowed to do this. This is the minimum protection of the floor that we’re going to give to people. But if a state legislature, like let’s say in my state of Utah, if the legislature were to say, okay, well that’s nice, the court has said that, you know, you’re not allowed to spy on people’s phones, we’re gonna take it a step further and add even more protections for the rights of people beyond what the courts have set. So the courts have set like a minimum standard, right? The floor, and then state legislatures can kind of go above that and say, in addition, we’re also gonna restrict the government from, you know, doing this, that, and the other. So it’s, kind of interesting because I think growing up we often think that whatever the Supreme Court says, we’re just stuck with that. But in some cases, in some cases, we kind of are, unless, you know, Congress changes the law or things change, but in some cases were not where the state legislature or Congress, for example, can add even more protections than what the Supreme Court said.

Brittany: That’s interesting. I did not know that actually. That’s a good perspective. So I know that I have a favorite Supreme Court justice. I’m curious if you do, I’m curious if we have the same one. I’ll go first. I know Minus Clarence Thomas, I tend to like him because he tends to favor individual rights and be a little bit more libertarian-leaning. So he’s one of my favorites. But do you have a favorite right now?

Connor: You know, I don’t, I end up not liking Supreme Court judges generally.

Brittany: That’s fair. they’re just like, what did you call them? Lawyers and black robes and, you know,

Connor: Yeah. You know, I really don’t like that they’re called Justice. Like, they’re very titled I’m like, you know what, these, these black-robed lawyers, these lawyers in black robes, sometimes they get it right, but sometimes they don’t. And the fact that we kind of call them this rosy title of justice and, you know, empower them like this, I, think it’s just problematic. This is one area of our government that I think needs a bit of work because it feels like people do kind of, what’s the right word? Defer. They, kind of defer to these judges. They, they let the judges kind of decide, and then all of a sudden it’s binding on everyone when I’m not sure that’s the best way. Like if you were to ask Thomas Jefferson, Hey, should we be ruled by the US Supreme Court? You know, like I, think a lot of the founding fathers would’ve said, well, there’s kind of a restricted place, where the Supreme Court makes sense and where their actions ought to be binding. But the more that the federal government is empowered to do more and more things, suddenly the Supreme Court has more and more power over our lives. And so I think lawyers, you know, I know a ton of lawyers and I am friends with a lot of lawyers, but you know, generally speaking, lawyers are, very kind of particular kind of people, and a lot of it can be very controlling and, you know, very nitpicky. and so the fact that you know, our lives can be regulated by all these attorneys who wear these fancy black robes, you know? Yeah. Clarence Thomas and in some cases Justice Alito and others, like they’ve said some good things, they’ve done some good things. you know, I was kind of hoping that, Andrew Napolitan would make it on Supreme Court. He’s an attorney who really gets kind of the constitution and individual rights. but, I do think we have a problem with our system where it is a little bit out of balance and the Supreme Court has, uh, you know, so much power and then you get these games played where yeah, like who gets to pick who’s gonna be on there and all the, like when, justice, Kavanaugh, Brett Kavanaugh,

Brittany: Oh, that was that circus that was just a nightmare,

Connor: Right? When he was going through the nomination. It was just crazy, the degree that some of the, you know, democrats were going, obviously we’re getting a bit in the weeds here, but the point is that I like the word that you used. It’s kind of a circus. Like, I don’t know that our political process should be reduced to that and be tainted by that. And so it’s just something that I think, that is a sign that the Supreme Court has too much power. When you get these circuses like that people are losing their minds about who might be on there. That just shows the power that these people have is so immense that when someone doesn’t like who’s gonna get on the Supreme Court, they’re freaking out like that. To me, it’s an indication of saying, eh, maybe we ought to find a way to reduce how much power they have so that ultimately it doesn’t care who’s on the Supreme Court because they, know, issue opinions on so few issues.

Brittany: Well, that’s a good point, cuz on so few issues is a really good point because they don’t have to hear every case that gets appealed, right? That people want them to hear. And that’s problematic. We’ve, we’ve talked about qualified immunity on a past podcast episode that would be an issue that it would be really great for them to maybe take a qualified immunity case. And there are several, I think who have tried because that is something that would, we would do well to maybe improve, you know, from a legal standpoint by the judges saying, this is unconstitutional. But they won’t even hear the case. And that’s what scares me is that they can just say, no, I don’t wanna hear this. Same with, the case of Ross Albrecht, who, well I’ll let you Google him on his own, but he was involved in like Bitcoin, things like that blockchain stuff. but he is in prison and they tried to appeal his case. They want the Supreme Court to, hear his case and they won’t even think about it, right? So there’s a lot of things where the barrier to entry at us, even getting the Supreme Court to listen to us is so slim to none. You’re not even gonna get to do it. That it’s almost like, why does this exist?

Connor: Yeah, that’s super interesting. There are a lot of books written about the Supreme Court. There’s a lot of controversies, in the past, especially when you look at FDR, decades ago and kind of packing the court and getting, you know, people on there that would rule that his New Deal socialist programs were constitutional. So, there have been a lot of controversies in the past, and occasionally the Supreme Court does get a lot of attention when there’s a certain ruling coming out because the stakes are so high, right? Like so many people on one side want it one way and the other side wants it a different way. And it’s this like clash in our society of people who completely disagree. And then it’s up to these, you know, black-robed lawyers to make the decision for all of us Where I think the system that the founding fathers were trying to set up is more decentralized. Its that a big word, but what it means is the federal government was supposed to be very small and involved in only a small handful of issues, rather than all those issues being centralized into one big government at the top. Instead, we were supposed to be decentralized. In other words, you know, local governments and smaller groups of people across the country would kind of handle issues on their own. And we wouldn’t have so that, like, if, things didn’t go your way, you could just move to the next town if you didn’t like it. And, it was much easier to kind of, avoid things you didn’t like. Whereas now that the whole country is much more centralized, the federal government has just assumed way more power in our lives, all of a sudden it really matters who’s gonna be on the Supreme Court because the decisions that they make affect everyone. and the stakes are very high. So really interesting topic. Again, as we’re talking about the different areas of government, and the different branches, it’s important to understand what each does. You can go read the Constitution, and see what powers, the Supreme Court, in particular, is given so that you can understand the different aspects and what they are kind of tasked by the Constitution to do. so fun little homework. If you wanna learn a little bit more, there’s a lot of resources online. Um, as always, check out Tuttletwins.com/podcast to go check out the show notes page and keep learning. Until next time, Brittany Great is always chatting with you.

Brittany: Talk to you next time


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