the highest court in a country or state Culturethe Supreme CourtThe judicial branch is one of the three branches of US federal government and operates the system of law courts. The Supreme Court in Washington, DC is the highest court in the US, and is very powerful. It has nine judges, called justices. Traditionally, they are called the nine old men, although in 1981 Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman justice. The head of the court has the title of Chief Justice of the United States. Justices are appointed by the President, although the Senate must confirm (= give its approval to) the choice.Some of the power of the Supreme Court was given to it in the Constitution. In 1803, in a famous case called Marbury v Madison, the Court gave itself the additional power of judicial review. This means that it has the power to decide if a law is constitutional (= follows the principles of the Constitution). If a law is said to be unconstitutional, it cannot be put into effect unless it is added to the Constitution, a long and difficult process that has succeeded only 27 times in more than 200 years. In this way the Supreme Court has the power to block (= stop) laws made by the US government and state as well as local laws.The Supreme Court is a court of appeal and hears cases on appeal that were first heard in the lower courts. It can hear only a small number of appeals and so tries to choose cases that involve important principles of law. Once the Court has decided a case, lower courts use it as a precedent, i.e. they follow the Supreme Court's decision in similar cases.Many of the Supreme Court's decisions are famous because they changed some aspect of US life. For instance, in the cases Scott v Sandford (1857) , Plessy v Ferguson (1896) and Brown v Board of Education (1954) the Court made important decisions about the rights of African Americans. In Miranda v Arizona (1966) the Court said that police officers must inform the people they arrest of their constitutional rights. In 1978, the decision in Regents of the University of California v Bakke upheld (= supported) affirmative action but made reverse discrimination illegal. This means that, when trying to give more opportunities to women, African Americans and minority groups, people cannot deny members of other groups fair treatment. The Roe v Wade decision of 1973 gave women across the US the right to abortion (= an operation to prevent a baby from being born alive). The decision in US v Nixon (1974) required President Nixon to hand over evidence that later led to his having to resign.