The US court's terms

The Court’s term is divided into
sittings of approximately two weeks
each, during which it meets in open
session and holds internal conferences, and recesses, during which the
justices work behind closed doors as
they consider cases and write opinions. The 80 to 90 cases per term that
receive the Court’s full treatment follow a fairly routine pattern.
Oral Argument. Oral arguments are
generally scheduled on Monday
through Wednesday during the sittings. 

The sessions run from 10:00
a.m. until noon and from 1:00 until
3:00 p.m. Because the procedure is not
a trial or the original hearing of a case,
no jury is assembled and no witnesses
are called. Instead, the two opposing
attorneys present their arguments to
the justices. The general practice is to
allow 30 minutes for each side, although the Court may decide that additional time is necessary. The Court
can normally hear four cases in one
day. Attorneys presenting oral arguments are frequently interrupted with
questions from the justices. The oral
argument is considered very important 

The Conference. On Fridays preceding the two-week sittings the Court
holds conferences; during sittings it
holds conferences on Wednesday afternoon and all day Friday. At the
Wednesday meeting the justices discuss the cases argued on Monday. At
the Friday conference they discuss the
cases that were argued on Tuesday and
Wednesday, plus any other matters
that need to be considered. The most
important of these other matters are
the certiorari petitions.

 Prior to the Friday conference each
justice is given a list of the cases that
will be discussed. The conference begins at about 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. and
runs until 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. As the justices enter the conference room they
shake hands and take their seats
around a rectangular table. They meet
behind locked doors, and no official
record is kept of the discussions. The
chief justice presides over the conference and offers an opinion first in each

 The other justices follow in descending order of seniority.
A quorum for a decision on a case
is six members; obtaining a quorum is
seldom difficult cases are sometimes decided by fewer than nine justices because of vacancies, illnesses, or nonparticipation resulting from possible
conflicts of interest. Supreme Court
decisions are made by a majority vote.
In case of a tie the lower-court decision is upheld.

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