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Supreme Court of the United States

Composition

The Supreme Court, sometimes called the High Court, is comprised of a chief justice and eight associate justices. Article III provides that the justices of the Court are to be appointed by the president of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate. Once appointed, a justice may not be removed from office except by congressional IMPEACHMENT. Because of this provision, many justices have remained on the bench into their eighties.

In 1789 the Court initially consisted of six members, but membership was increased to seven in 1807. In 1837 an eighth and ninth justice were added, and in 1863 the number rose to ten. Congress lowered the number to eight to prevent President ANDREW JOHNSON from appointing anyone, and since 1869 the Court has consisted of nine justices.

The only modern attempt to alter the size of the Court occurred in 1937, when President FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT attempted to "pack" the Court by trying to add justices more sympathetic to his political ideals. Between 1935 and 1937, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional numerous pieces of Roosevelt's NEW DEAL program that attempted to regulate the national economy. Most of the conservative judges who voted against the New Deal statutes were over the age of 70. Roosevelt proposed that justices be allowed to retire at age 70 with full pay. Any judge who declined this offer would be forced to have an assistant with full VOTING RIGHTS. This plan was met with hostility by Democrats and Republicans and ultimately rejected as an act of political interference.

When the office of chief justice is vacant, the president may choose the new chief justice from among the associate justices but does not need to do so. Whenever the chief justice is unable to perform his or her duties or the office is vacant, the associate justice who has been on the Court the longest performs the duties. The Court can take official action with as few as six members joining in deliberation. However, extremely important cases will sometimes be postponed until all nine justices can participate.

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