By Jedidiah McKeehan

The United States Supreme Court is the highest body in the judicial system of the United States.  It is made up of nine justices, or judges, who hear cases involving primarily constitutional issues, and often they decide cases that affect us in our daily lives and interactions.

How does a case get before the Supreme Court?  A case will start out at a lower court, and will have to be decided, and then appealed twice prior to reaching the Supreme Court.  So that means that the Supreme Court will be making a decision on an issue that that has already been decided twice, and they will either agree with what has been ruled by a different court, or they will change the ruling.

Attorneys ask the Supreme Court to hear a large number of cases each year, but the Supreme Court will not actually hear the case unless four of the justices vote to hear the case.  If they do not decide to hear a case, then the decision of the lower court will remain in place.

When a case is heard before the Supreme Court, there are no witnesses, and the time period for arguing cases is fairly short, typically less than an hour.  The Court will often be deciding how to apply a law, or whether a law should be changed.  After the Court hears the arguments from the attorneys, they will meet and vote on how to rule on the case with a simple majority making the decision.  So if an attorney can get five justices to vote for their position, then they will win the case.

One of the justices will then write an opinion (meaning, their clerk will write an opinion) that states the ruling of the Court, and it will be published six to eight months after the hearing.

The most recent big decision of the Supreme Court that most people know about is the legalizing gay marriage.  As I said at the beginning, many of the Supreme Court decisions have a substantial effect on our country.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.