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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 G. Roberts, Jr.
Associate Justices: Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan   
Retired Justices: Sandra Day O'Connor, David H. Souter, John Paul Stevens
Justice O'Connor Introduces Our Courts

Justice O'Connor Introduces Our Courts

Sandra Day O’Connor video interview

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.

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.
  • C-SPAN: The Supreme Court - Home to America's Highest Court - This site includes videos of current justices and a tour of the building and an interactive time line of Supreme Court decisions.
  • The Oyez Project - A multimedia archive devoted to the U.S. Supreme Court and its work. It has all audio recorded in the Court since October 1955, information on all justices, and a virtual tour of portions of the Supreme Court building. 
  • U.S. Courts Educational Outreach - Geared to high school teachers and their students.
    • Federal Courts in a Nutshell: What Every Citizen Should Know about the Federal Courts - Key concepts and a quiz. From U.S. Courts.
    • Supreme Court Conversation on the Constitution: Jury Service (10 min video) - Justices Breyer, O'Connor, and Kennedy discuss the importance of jury service with high school students. Scroll down this page to view video.
  • Historic Supreme Court decisions - By topic. From the Cornell University Law School Web site.
  • How Cases Move Through Federal Courts - Follow a criminal case and a civil case from a district court to the highest court, the Supreme Court. The site also has 10 interactive quizzes on materials covered on the site. From the Federal Judicial Center.

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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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