WASHINGTON – Some believe the nine justices of the US Supreme Court have become the most powerful people in the nation's government. When you look at what all those justices do and the cases they decide, it's easy to see why.
Lawmakers pass the laws of the nation, but the Supreme Court decides whether those laws are constitutional and thus can stand.
The executive branch executes the laws Congress passes, but the Supreme Court decides whether it's executing them constitutionally.
The only way to go over the high court's head is through the burdensome process of amending the Constitution, which takes approval by three-fourths of the states.
These nine justices are the court of last resort in America, with the power of life and death in their hands. It's a rare execution that takes place without a justice weighing in first.
If a person can get their case before the high court, it can change the course of the entire nation, no matter what presidents or lawmakers or the majority of the people want.
You can see that power displayed in Roe v. Wade, 1973 case in which the justices ruled the 14th Amendment right to privacy meant a woman could abort her baby. Roughly 60 million abortions have followed that landmark decision.
That power was also on display regarding gay marriage, something that was illegal in most states. But with one ruling the Supreme Court legalized it throughout the entire nation.
With that kind of power at play, it shows why the leanings of a new ninth justice are so crucial – because right now the court is split evenly between four conservative-leaning and four liberal-leaning justices.