Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
The Supreme Court The Supreme Court - Image of hands holding a gavel.
Check local listings
Home Timeline Games Supreme Court History
SUPREME COURT HISTORY
Law, Power & Personality
Introduction
E-Mail this Page Glossary

Review the Court's History Famous Dissents Photo of an African-American man in a a segregated waiting room at a bus terminal
How have the quirks of personality -- and sometimes the personal politics -- of Supreme Court justices affected the history of the Court and the law it shapes? Why is judicial temperament especially important for chief justices? How do dissenting opinions work?

Read and find out!
Dissents have no legal force, but they do allow justices to express their disagreement, influence the majority to refine the weaker points of its holding -- and potentially lay the ground work for a later reversal.

Find out how!
Supreme Inspiration
Photo of Sandra Day O'Connor Biographies of the Robes
From its inception in 1790, the Supreme Court has included diverse personalities from across the political spectrum, from brilliant scholars to seasoned politicians. Their ranks
include former senators, congressmen, a president, and even a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.

Learn more!
Justices often draw on the insights of writers, philosophers, and poets to substantiate a position. Opinion excerpts from the dialogues of Plato to the poetry of John Donne offer a peek into the Court's personality.
Play the Game
Primary Sources Explore memoirs, speeches, and audio and video histories of the justices. Learn about the near-assassination of Justice Field, or watch a video history of Justice Blackmun.

Go!

''If the first amendment means anything, it means that a state has no business telling a man, sitting in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch. Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds'' a quote by Thurgood Marshall Did You Know? During the Supreme Court's first term in 1790, it did not have a docket or decide any cases.