49 Putting It Together


The federal court system consists of ninety-four district courts, with at least one in each state, and thirteen appeals courts, each one with jurisdiction over several states. At the top of the judicial system is the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s decisions entail briefs, oral arguments, conferences, clerks, and opinions.

We have explained how judicial review originated, how it is exercised, and what its effects are. We described the power of the courts, especially of the Supreme Court, and how it may be constrained by precedent, internal limitations, and external pressures. Justices make policy and are influenced by their ideological views and judicial philosophies.

Presidents usually try to nominate as federal judges people who share their ideological, policy, and partisan views. Nominations attract intense scrutiny from interest groups and the media and can be controversial and contentious. They are subject to confirmation by the Senate, which may delay, block, or approve them. We examined why the nominations of Robert H. Bork and Harriet Miers failed and why those of Clarence Thomas, John G. Roberts Jr., Samuel A. Alito Jr., Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan were successful.

News media coverage of the Supreme Court is incomplete and oversimplified, usually depicting the justices as apolitical. These depictions reinforce the legitimacy of courts and people’s confidence in judges. Americans believe that the legal system is the best in the world but are critical of how it operates.


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