The Supreme Court

Sandra Day O'Connor wore this robe on September 25, 1981, when she was sworn in as the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
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The country's final legal authority is the Supreme Court. It has the responsibility to interpret the law and reject legislation or executive actions it deems in violation or contradiction of the Constitution. Several presidents have seen their powers restricted by court rulings that struck down their programs or restricted their orders.

Since Supreme Court justices are appointed for life, they are largely sheltered from political pressure. All a president can do to affect Supreme Court outcomes is try to amend the Constitution or hope that vacancies open up on the court, giving him an opportunity to name more sympathetic justices.

Court packing cartoon
In the mid-1930s the Supreme Court ruled many of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal reforms, including the National Industrial Recovery Act, unconstitutional. Roosevelt countered by proposing to enlarge the size of the court and thus, through his new appointees, win more favorable decisions.

Both Republicans and Democrats were outraged by this attack on the court's independence and forced Roosevelt to withdraw his proposal. No president since has attempted to directly undermine the court's constitutional autonomy, and the size of the court has remained fixed (since 1869) at nine justices. This cartoon by Elderman appeared in the February 6, 1937, Washington Post.

Courtesy of Washington Post
Robe worn by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist during sessions of the Supreme Court and during the Senate impeachment trial of President William Clinton. Rehnquist added the gold stripes to the sleeves in 1995 after seeing the costume worn by the Lord Chancellor in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe. Rehnquist was appointed to the court in 1971 as an associate justice and was chief justice from 1986 until his death on September 3, 2005.
First photograph of the U.S. Supreme Court, by Mathew Brady, 1869
Courtesy of National Archives
U.S. Supreme Court, 1939, photo signed by the members
Back row (left to right): Felix Frankfurter, Hugo L. Black, Stanley Reed, William O. Douglas; Front row (left to right): Harlan F. Stone, James Clark McReynolds, Charles Evans Hughes (Chief Justice), Pierce Butler, Owen Josephus Roberts
U.S. Supreme Court, 1998
Back row (left to right): Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Hackett Souter, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer; front row (left to right): Antonin Scalia, John Paul Stevens, William Hubbs Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy.
Courtesy of U.S. Supreme Court