The Supreme Court of the United States (sometimes colloquially referred to by the acronym SCOTUS) is the highest federal court of the United States. Established pursuant to Article Three of the United States Constitution in 1789, it has ultimate (and largely discretionary) appellate jurisdiction over all federal courts and state court cases involving issues of federal law plus original jurisdiction over a small range of cases. In the legal system of the United States, the Supreme Court is generally the final interpreter of federal law including the United States Constitution, but it may act only within the context of a case in which it has jurisdiction. The Court may decide cases having political overtones, but does not have power to decide nonjusticiable political questions, and its enforcement arm is in the executive rather than judicial branch of government.
According to federal statute, the Court normally consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight associate justices who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Once appointed, justices have lifetime tenure unless they resign, retire, or are removed after impeachment. In modern discourse, the justices are often categorized as having conservative, moderate, or liberal philosophies of law and of judicial interpretation. Each justice has one vote, and while a far greater number of cases in recent history have been decided unanimously, decisions in cases of the highest profile have often come down to just one single vote, thereby exposing the justices' ideological beliefs that track with those philosophical or political categories. The Court meets in the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.
The ratification of the United States Constitution established the Supreme Court in 1789. Its powers are detailed in Article Three of the Constitution. The Supreme Court was the only court specifically established by the Constitution while all other federal courts were created by Congress. Congress is also responsible for conferring the title of "justice" to its members, who are known to scold lawyers for inaccurately referring to them as "judge", even though it is the term used in the Constitution.
The Court first convened on February 2, 1790, with six judges where only five of its six initial positions were filled. According to historian Fergus Bordewich, in its first session: "he Supreme Court convened for the first time at the Royal Exchange Building on Broad Street, a few steps from Federal Hall. Symbolically, the moment was pregnant with promise for the republic, this birth of a new national institution whose future power, admittedly, still existed only in the eyes and minds of just a few visionary Americans. Impressively bewigged and swathed in their robes of office, Chief Justice John Jay and three associate justices — William Cushing of Massachusetts, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, and John Blair of Virginia — sat augustly before a throng of spectators and waited for something to happen. Nothing did. They had no cases to consider. After a week of inactivity, they adjourned until September, and everyone went home."
The sixth member, James Iredell, was not confirmed until May 12, 1790. Because the full Court had only six members, every decision that it made by a majority was also made by two-thirds (voting four to two). However, Congress has always allowed less than the Court's full membership to make decisions, starting with a quorum of four justices in 1789.
Under Chief Justices Jay, Rutledge and Ellsworth (1789–1801), the Court heard few cases; its first decision was West v. Barnes (1791), a case involving procedure. The Court lacked a home of its own and had little prestige, a situation not helped by the era's highest-profile case, Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), which was reversed within two years by the Eleventh Amendment's adoption.
The Court's power and prestige grew substantially during the Marshall Court (1801–35). Under Marshall, the Court established the power of judicial review over acts of Congress, including specifying itself as the supreme expositor of the Constitution (Marbury v. Madison) and making several important constitutional rulings that gave shape and substance to the balance of power between the federal government and states (notably, Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, McCulloch v. Maryland and Gibbons v. Ogden).