What are the Powers of the Supreme Court?

Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye
The powers of the Supreme Court are spelled out in the U.S. Constitution.
The powers of the Supreme Court are spelled out in the U.S. Constitution.

A supreme court is the most powerful member of a jurisdiction's judicial system. The U.S. Supreme Court is therefore the highest court in the nation. As such, it can act as an appellate authority in cases heard in lower courts. It can hear and decide cases between states and citizens of different states. The powers of the Supreme Court also allow it to hear and decide cases that arise from incidents on water and those involving foreign government representatives.

One of the primary powers of the supreme court is to hear appeals from cases that were decided in lower federal and state courts. If the U.S. Supreme Court finds errors in the previous decisions, it does not have to remand the cases back to be reheard. Instead, it has the authority to issue a different decision, which will be final and cannot be altered by any other judicial body. The powers of the Supreme Court also allow it to be selective with regard to the appellate cases that it hears. It does not have to hear every case that is submitted for its review, nor does the court attempt to.

State matters are usually heard in state court first. Then if a case makes its way far enough through the appellate process, it may end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. When the issue involves a legal dispute between two states, however, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction, meaning it will be the first one to hear the case. This court may also have original jurisdiction when the parties to a case are citizens of different states and when citizens in one state file suit against a foreign state.

The powers of the Supreme Court give it authority over all cases involving admiralty. This refers to law that governs activity in waters such as lakes, river, and oceans. It applies even when the waters lie wholly within a specific jurisdiction and the parties are citizens of that jurisdiction. This means that if two boats crash in the Rappahanock River in Virginia, the matter will never be heard in that state's court.

The U.S. Constitution includes among the powers of the Supreme Court the ability to hear cases involving certain individuals. These include legal matters that involve citizens who hold positions such as ambassadors, public ministers, and consulates. The Supreme Court also has the authority to hear cases that involve foreigners who are government representatives.

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Discussion Comments


I have heard that there are a lot of powers of the Supreme Court that people do not even know about, such as how the justices will always decide cases that are between two nations or cases where states sue each other.

The powers of the Supreme Court can be far reaching and people do not realize how easy it is for them to hear a case. All that is needed is a case that is in legal grey area, and is held in a previous court of any kind.

These legal questions are in reality the reason for the Supreme Court as their purpose is to be there to give a final decision on the laws of the land and make sure all laws and everyone is behaving fairly in regards to the laws that govern the nation.

I would really like to know some other powers of the Supreme Court besides being the final word and the previous few I mentioned as I know that they have power over a lot of different types of cases that cannot be decided locally or at the state levels.

@jmc88 - You are absolutely correct, as justices can be removed by the Senate, if they were to abuse their powers and act with an obvious agenda in mind that goes against the Constitution. This has only happened once though, if I am not mistaken, and the judge was later reinstated, due to being removed for political reasons.

As far as limits of powers on the justices, they are only limited by previous decisions, which can be changed if done correctly, and the Constitution, which they swear to defend and base their laws around.

The Supreme Court should not be seen as ones with all the power, but ones that are there to check for mistakes and eliminate bias in the laws that can be seen as illegal or put in for political purposes.

Although the Supreme Court itself can sometimes become political, they still keep the Constitution in mind and make sure that they are the ones that keep all laws in line with it.


@Izzy78 - I hate to correct you, but it is a popular misconception that the Supreme Court justices can decide however they want to on such matters.

Although they do hold extreme power over the legality of laws in the country, they are always bound by the Constitution and previous Supreme Court cases, which have been decided and set the precedents for such matters.

Although it is possible for precedents to change, these can only be done in certain circumstances. Like one example is decisions focused around allowing slavery. Since American society decided to outlaw slavery, and Constitutional amendments were added, the Supreme Court had their previous decisions voided, as these new amendments were accepted as constitutional by the Supreme Court.

Although these justices do hold a lot of power there are ways to keep them in check and even ways to remove them if they start to abuse their powers.


The biggest power of the Supreme Court is to set a legal precedent in a case for something that has not necessarily been governed before.

This power is extremely important because whatever the Supreme Court justices decide in the case and why they decide the way they did determines how future cases of that subject matter will be decided in the past and laws regarding those topics will have to always take into account the Supreme Court decision for it to be considered lawful and constitutional.

Some say that the Supreme Court should not have this type of power, as in reality they can decide whatever they want on anything and can really hinder the process, but that is why the interviews the justices have with the Senate, before they are confirmed, usually last at least an entire day and it is not unusual for a justice to be voted down by the Senate and deemed unfit to serve on the Court, with such great power.

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    • The powers of the Supreme Court are spelled out in the U.S. Constitution.
      By: James Steidl
      The powers of the Supreme Court are spelled out in the U.S. Constitution.