Judiciary Act of 1789 Established Federal Courts

Divided Country into Circuits  - more circuits now because we have more states

Provided for Chief Justice and five Associate Justices for Supreme Court - 9 since 1869

The courts are a Hierarchy with the Supreme Court at the top

PA’s court system mirrors the federal system - over 1000 PA judges - ALL ELECTED

Supreme Court (15), Commonwealth Court (9), Court of Common Pleas (439): 10-yr

Municipal - Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (517) and Magisterial Courts (39): 6-yr



Foreign governments            

Maritime law

Two or more state governments
Citizens of different states            

US laws and treaties
Interpretation of the Constitution




Court of Law - Hear cases within Federal Jurisdiction - Not like a TV trial court 

    Justices read petitions previewed by their clerks 

        usually cases appealed after local state or federal court

        Justices choose which cased to hear


Conflict of law: two or more courts reach different conclusions about an issue of federal or constitutional law

Important Issues 

Justices' Interests: issues in their favorite areas of law

Lower Courts Disregard past Supreme Court decisions:

    hear the case to correct the lower court,

    simply overrule the case without comment

Make Policy - examples: Brown (desegregation), Roe v Wade (abortion)

Interpret the Constitution - rulings based on Justices’ interpretation of the Constitution.

Check actions of Legislative and Executive Branches

    Rules on constitutionality of laws passed by legislative branch

    In US v Nixon, the court limited Presidential executive privilege



Supreme Court Justices - Appointed by President - Approved by Senate - Appointed for life


John G Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice, 2005, age 62    

Anthony Kennedy, 1987, age 80
Clarence Thomas, 1991, age 68                

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1993, age 83
Stephen Breyer, 1994, age 78                

Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr., 2005, age 66
Sonia Sotomayor, 2009, age 62                

Elena Kagan, 2010, age 56

Neil Gorsuch, 2017, age 50


Conservative: Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch
Centrist: Kennedy
Liberal: Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan


  • Facebook Social Icon

We hope you and others who visit this website find it useful.

If you would like to use material from the website, including our seminar slideshow, speakers' notes for the seminar, and/or videos of the seminar, please send a written request through the contact form on the index page of this website.

We grant licenses for use that is in keeping with our intent for and the seminars it supports. The material on this website is protected by DMCA.

Unauthorized use of the materials is prohibited.