Browse Topics



U.S. Supreme Court Q&A

Want to know more about a case or how the justices rule? Ask Nina Totenberg, the award-winning legal affairs correspondent who's been covering the court for NPR since 1975. We will post her answers here periodically.

Please tell me, if Justices Rehnquest and O'Connor retire, do they have to be replaced by the current administration or could the Congress and Senate stall new nominations until the next term?
-- Nancy

It would be theoretically possible to filibuster to death a Supreme Court nomination. But that has never happened. If either the Chief Justice or Justice O'Connor were to retire some time in the next two years, President Bush would nominate replacements, and the Senate would likely vote those choices either up or down.

Did the Framers of the Constitution publish any doubts about the power granted the Judicial Branch of government? In High School, we're taught about the concept of "checks and balances" established between the three branches of government. However, it seems odd that although the Framers established both the Executive and Legislative branches which are based on democratic voting ( or at least that seems to have been the intent to my uneducated perspective) the Judiciary seems to have been established along the lines of an unelected aristocracy. Jefferson rails against the king in his rough draft of the Constitution. Didn't the framers fear establishing an aristocracy which would end or at least diminish their fledgling attempts at creating a democracy? What are the best sources and books to read on the subject?

-- Marc

Ironically, the framers seem to have been relatively unfearful of an all-powerful Judiciary. Alexander Hamilton called the Judiciary, "the least dangerous branch." Many of the framers in fact were more fearful of the tyranny of the majority, which is why they established an independent, and unelected judiciary.

Your Turn
Share your thoughts on the Supreme Court, its rulings and general trends on our online discussion.