The court system is indispensable in a democratic society because of its independence in issuing opinions regarding justice and fairness. That’s why in a country where freedom of speech is lacking, the courts are never allowed such independence. They are made a rubber stamp for the government to legitimize its policies, no matter how harsh or unfair.
Let’s find an example in the Americian system. The power of the Supreme Court comes from the US Constitution establishing the Court as a third branch of government equal in power to the Legislative and Executive Branches. Comparing this power in terms of labor resources, the Supreme Court has only nine Justices; the Congress has more than 500 Legislators; and the President is Commander-in-Chief of the entire US armed forces. It is hard to believe that the Supreme Court has equal power but it does, because its rulings are always obeyed. This confirms that the pen is mightier than the sword in a democratic society, because people believe in the Constitution and the rule of law.
Additional power is guaranteed to the members of the US Supreme Court. Each new Justice is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate for life appointment. A Justice can only be removed by death, physical incapacitation, or voluntary retirement. So a young Justice has the potential of influencing court decisions and people’s lives for decades to come.
We must recognize that the Justices are human beings who have personal biases and preferences. As a consequence, their backgrounds and philosophies will play a part in their court decisions. That is why the President has to be careful to nominate the right person. And the Congress has to spend a few months to question the candidate regarding what he/she has said or done before confirmation is granted.
The Supreme Court decides independently to rule on any issue they want. Each year, a number of cases are tossed out because the Court refuses to hear them without having to give any reason. Whatever cases they have ruled on and issued an opinion, the whole country and its people will be greatly impacted.
When the Supreme Court considers a case, each Justice makes his or her own decision independently. Then they cast a vote for the final decision of the Court. What about a tied vote? A tie is impossible because the Court is designed to have nine members, an odd number.
As you are aware, recent rulings of the US Supreme Court tend to be a 5-4 split vote. This means the issues are either very controversial, or the Justices are divided between two camps in their philosophies. This will certainly raise the influence of a newly appointed Justice who may be able to swing the final vote in either direction.
The US Supreme Court never takes up any big issues that it thinks should be decided by the Executive or Legislative Branch. Should the Supreme Court decide that slavery was illegal back in the mid 1860’s, the Civil War might not have occurred. Similarly, should it decide that US military ventures into Vietnam and Iraq were illegal, the nation might not have suffered such great losses of people and treasure.