The judicial branch of the United States government is responsible for interpreting and explaining the constitution through a series of court hearings and rulings. This consists of three levels of courts: the Supreme Court, magistrate courts and municipal courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the system. Other courts included in this branch of government include magistrate courts which are found at the local levels and municipal courts which are found at the city level. The primary functions of the judicial branch are to interpret state and federal laws, resolve legal disputes, punish those who violate the law, make decisions in civil cases, and assess the innocence or guilt of a person based on criminal laws and to serve as a check for the executive and legislative branches of government.
The Supreme Court, the leader of the judicial branch, consists of nine justices or judges. Eight of the judges are called associate judges and one judge is called a chief justice. Each of the judges must first be nominated for office by the president and then approved by the Senate. The process of the Senate approving a judge is often referred to as confirmation.
Unlike the president or members of the legislative branch, Supreme Court justices do not have term limits. A judge who sits on the Supreme Court can only be removed after being impeached by the House of Representatives. The purpose of having an unlimited term is so that judges are not subject to political pressure which could influence their decisions. At the state level, judges must seek to gain office through their membership to a political party. These judges are elected by the citizens rather than appointed by a political officer.
The Supreme Court is the only court to be established by the constitution. Unlike lesser courts, who rule in terms of guilty or not guilty, Supreme Court justices decide if a law or ruling is constitutional or unconstitutional. The United States district courts and 13 courts of appeals were later established by Congress. Supreme Court decisions are of national importance because they are the final authority on what is and is not constitutional. The motto of the Supreme Court is “Equal Justice Under Law”. This court is given power by the Constitution to decide whether or not local, state and federal governments are behaving in accordance with the law.
The Supreme Court is the only court that has the power to declare an act of the president as unconstitutional. Since this court is the final authority, its findings cannot be questioned. This is very different from lower courts where the judgments and decisions can be appealed multiple times. Although the Supreme Court hears and rules upon less than one hundred and fifty cases annually, they receive thousands of requests for rulings each year.
The judicial branch is designed to analyze and interpret the actions of the executive and legislative branches to ensure that they are just and constitutional. This branch oversees a number of courts at the state, local and federal levels. The tiered judicial system is designed to deliver the promise of equal justice for all through the scope of the law.