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Judicial Branch

Found insocial studies, preK-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

The United States Constitution organized our national government into three independent branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.

The judicial branch consists of a system of courts that decide arguments about the meaning of laws, how they are applied, and whether they violate the Constitution. The federal court system is made up of the United States Supreme Court and a network of courts below it.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the United States. It consists of a Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices, who are nominated by the President and confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate. Supreme Court justices make decisions solely on constitutional matters.

Chief Justice of the United States:
John Roberts
Associate Justices: Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, 1 seat vacant

Supreme Court Nominations Research Guide

A guide that explains the nomination process and suggests resources on the nominations of recently confirmed Supreme Court Justices.

Maintaining an Impartial Judiciary

Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor told NEA Today she believes "that a fair and impartial judiciary is a critical element of any decent society. One of the things this country has done well is to foster the notion that disputes in our country can be resolved without going to battle - resolved in the courts with a fair and impartial judicial branch. The framers of the Constitution created a federal judiciary to decide issues of federal law: the president makes the appointment, with the advice and the consent of the senate, and the appointments are for life.

All of the states followed suit, until the states began to think we should elect our state court judges. Today, about half of the states have popular election of judges, using advertisements and raising a great deal of money.

So when I retired from the court, there were two things I thought I should do. One was to encourage those states who still elect their judges to go to some kind of appointive system with periodic retention elections based on the performance of the judge, not contested races involving campaign funding. I’ve done everything I can, speaking and writing about the question. The other thing was to do a better job educating young people about the role of the courts and judge. That's why I got some support to develop a Web site for middle-schoolers called Our Courts (now called iCivics).” Read more from the NEA Today interview with Justice O'Connor in Courting Kids.

Judges’ Appearance of Impartiality  A debate about judicial impartiality in the context of New York City’s 2013 stop-and-frisk case from which a judge was removed.

Related Resources

Supreme Court of the United States - Official page of the United States Supreme Court, featuring the court's opinions and orders, calendar and schedules, rules, news releases, and general information.

- Official page of the United States Supreme Court, featuring the court's opinions and orders, calendar and schedules, rules, news releases, and general information.

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RELATED LINKS

  • NEA Tribute to Justice John Paul Stevens
    Justice Stevens’ authored nearly 400 majority opinions, many of them protecting the rights of education employees and students.  
  • Executive Branch
    Led by the President of the United States. 
  • Legislative Branch
    Resources for Teaching About the Legislative Branch of the Federal Government
  • Judicial Branch
    The system of courts that decides arguments about the meaning of laws, how they are applied, and whether they violate the Constitution.

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