Darby Hoehn

Written by Darby Hoehn

Modified & Updated: 19 May 2024

Source: Thoughtco.com

Ever wondered about the quirks and lesser-known tidbits of the highest court in the United States? Well, you're in for a treat! The Supreme Court isn't just about landmark cases and legal precedents; it's also a goldmine of fascinating facts that don't make the headlines. From secret basketball games to a historical freeze on restroom renovations, this venerable institution is brimming with stories that will make you see it in a whole new light. Ready to get the lowdown on some of the most intriguing aspects of this judicial powerhouse? Let's dive into 17 great fun facts about the Supreme Court that are sure to surprise and delight you.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Supreme Court is the highest court in the US, shaping American law and society through landmark cases and unique traditions like the "basketball court" above the courtroom.
  • Justices serve for life, and the Court's decisions have a profound impact on American life, influencing everything from civil rights to global judicial systems.
Table of Contents

What Is the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court stands as the highest court in the United States. It has the ultimate authority in interpreting the Constitution, reviewing laws, and deciding on cases that have significant legal implications. This powerful institution plays a crucial role in shaping American law and society.

Who Makes Up the Supreme Court?

Nine justices, including one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices, make up the Supreme Court. These members are nominated by the President and must be confirmed by the Senate. Once appointed, justices serve for life, unless they decide to retire or are impeached.

The Supreme Court Building

  1. A Marvel of Architecture: The Supreme Court building, located in Washington, D.C., was completed in 1935. Before this, the Court held sessions in various locations, including the U.S. Capitol building.

Historical Milestones

  1. A Court of Firsts: Sandra Day O'Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice in 1981, breaking centuries of male dominance in the judiciary.

  2. Longest Serving Justice: William O. Douglas holds the record for the longest tenure on the bench, serving over 36 years from 1939 to 1975.

Unique Traditions

  1. Behind Closed Doors: The Supreme Court's conference handshake, a tradition where each Justice shakes hands with every other Justice before sitting down to discuss cases, symbolizes their commitment to respect and collegiality, regardless of personal or ideological differences.

  2. The "Basketball Court": Above the courtroom, there's a gym that includes a basketball court, humorously dubbed "the highest court in the land."

Landmark Cases

  1. Brown v. Board of Education (1954): This landmark decision declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional, helping to dismantle racial segregation in America.

  2. Roe v. Wade (1973): This controversial case recognized a woman's legal right to an abortion under the U.S. Constitution, sparking ongoing debates about reproductive rights.

The Supreme Court's Influence

  1. Shaping Society: Decisions made by the Supreme Court have profound impacts on American life, influencing everything from civil rights to the limits of government power.

  2. A Global Beacon: The Supreme Court also serves as a model for judicial systems around the world, exemplifying the principles of justice, fairness, and the rule of law.

Fun Facts

  1. No Official Requirement: Interestingly, there is no specific requirement to be a Supreme Court Justice. One does not need to have a law degree or even be a lawyer, although all justices have been trained in law so far.

  2. A Secret Exit: The Supreme Court building has a private exit that justices can use to leave the building unnoticed, a feature designed for their safety and privacy.

  3. Unique Office Decor: Each Justice personalizes their office, with some choosing to display artifacts that reflect their interests and personalities. For instance, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was known to have an extensive collection of lace jabots (collars).

  4. The Annual "Summer Recess": The Supreme Court typically adjourns in late June or early July and resumes in October, giving justices a lengthy summer break, which is often used for travel, teaching, and speaking engagements.

  5. The First African American Justice: Thurgood Marshall, appointed in 1967, was the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court, breaking racial barriers and paving the way for future generations.

  6. The Court's "Crier": Before each session begins, the Court's crier announces, "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!" which means "hear ye, hear ye, hear ye," signaling the start of proceedings. This tradition dates back to medieval England.

  7. A Rarely Used Power: The Supreme Court has the power to impeach one of its own members, though this has never happened in its history.

  8. The "Swing Vote" Phenomenon: Often, one Justice finds themselves in a position where their vote can tip the balance in closely divided cases, earning them the title of "swing vote." This role has significant influence over the Court's decisions and, by extension, American law.

A Final Glimpse at the High Court's Marvels

Diving into the world of the Supreme Court has been nothing short of a thrilling ride through history, law, and the unexpected. We've uncovered 17 great fun facts that paint a vivid picture of this esteemed institution beyond the usual legal jargon and courtroom drama. From its architectural grandeur to the personal quirks of its justices, the Supreme Court stands as a testament to the complexity and enduring nature of justice in America. These tidbits not only humanize the court but also highlight its pivotal role in shaping the nation's course. Whether you're a history buff, a legal eagle, or just plain curious, there's no denying the fascinating layers that make up the Supreme Court. Here's hoping these insights have sparked a deeper interest in the judiciary's workings and its impact on everyday lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is the Supreme Court?
Supreme Court acts as the highest federal court in the United States. It has the final say on disputes that involve laws of the land, ensuring they're in line with the Constitution.
How many justices are on the Supreme Court?
Normally, there are nine justices, including one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. However, this number can change if Congress decides to pass a law adjusting it.
Can Supreme Court justices be removed?
Yes, but it's rare. Justices can be impeached and removed from office for misconduct. This process involves the House of Representatives impeaching them and the Senate convicting them.
Who picks Supreme Court justices?
The President of the United States nominates justices, but they must be confirmed by the Senate. This process ensures a check and balance system between the branches of government.
How long do justices serve?
Justices serve for life, or until they choose to retire. This lifelong tenure is meant to keep them independent and impartial, away from political pressures.
Has the Supreme Court always had nine justices?
No, the number has changed over time. Initially, there were six justices. Through history, this number has fluctuated from as few as five to as many as ten, settling on nine since 1869.
Can the Supreme Court's decisions be overturned?
While difficult, Supreme Court decisions can be overturned in two main ways: by the Court itself in a later case or through constitutional amendments. Both methods are rare and require significant consensus.
Why does the Supreme Court matter?
Its decisions have a profound impact on American life, shaping laws and policies on issues ranging from civil rights to the limits of government power. As the ultimate arbiter of the U.S. Constitution, its rulings affect all Americans.

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