What Is the Judicial Branch of the U.S. Government? | History

- There are three branches

of government in the United States:

legislative, executive,

and judicial.

The judicial branch is made up

of the Supreme Court and other federal

courts whose function is to rule

on all matters related

to the law and the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has enormous power that

has continued to grow since its inception

in 1789. [MUSIC PLAYING]

The first version of the court

had only six justices.

In 1869, that number grew to nine

and has remained that way ever since.

Unlike the other branches

of government, justices

aren't elected.

The president nominates Supreme

Court members, as well as

federal courts of appeals and district

court judges.

The Senate then has the responsibility

to vote and confirm or reject

the appointment.

Justices don't have term limits.

They're able to serve until they die,

retire, or are removed

by Congress through impeachment

and conviction.

The Constitution itself doesn't give

any specific requirements

for who can and cannot be a justice.

In fact, federal law doesn't even

require a federal judge

to be an attorney.

But traditionally, most of them

have worked as lawyers.


And when it comes to the power

the Supreme Court wields,

the Constitution is again, pretty vague.

Section 1 identifies the Supreme Court

as a third branch of government

and it empowers the court

to decide cases.

That's pretty much it.

Section 2 touches on jurisdiction.

And section 3 spells out

regulations around treason cases.

There is no mention of interpreting

the constitutionality of the laws,

the very thing the Supreme Court

is famous for today.

So how did the Supreme Court

get that power?

The answer is an 1803 Supreme

Court case, known as Marbury

versus Madison.

The case is a little complicated,

but basically Chief Justice John

Marshall ruled that the law Marbury was

using to make his case was


Marshall's ruling established that it

was the United States Supreme Court's

responsibility to interpret

the constitutionality of laws.

And so the court's mandate

of judicial review was born.

And as the highest court

in the country, decisions

made by the Supreme Court are final.

That is, unless a future Supreme

Court finds that decision


One well-known example of this

was the Supreme Court's ruling

in the case of Brown versus Board

of Education in 1954, which

ruled racial segregation

in public schools unconstitutional.

This overruled the Supreme Court's

1896 decision in Plessy

versus Ferguson, which had legally

protected segregation as

separate but equal.

When the Supreme Court makes

a ruling, all other courts must follow

this precedent.

Unlike the president or Congress,

courts only act if someone

brings forward a valid case.

And unlike the legislative and

executive branches, the judicial branch

operates outside of elections

and voter input.

But it nonetheless has

a profound effect on our daily lives,

by evaluating the constitutionality

of laws to keep our government in check.