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An associate justice is a member of a court who is not the presiding judge of the court. Associate justices mainly serve on high level appellate courts, such as state, provincial or national supreme courts, which are essentially courts of appeals. A court of appeals is a higher level court where the decisions of a lower court may be reviewed, upheld or overturned.
Most supreme courts consist of a chief justice and several associate justices. The number of associate justices varies, depending on the specific court and jurisdiction. Most supreme courts follow the same general format with cases being presented to all of the members of the court. Once the parties have presented their sides, the justices render their decision on the case by taking a vote. On most supreme courts, each of the associate justices and the chief justice has one equal vote, with the vote of the chief justice carrying no more weight or power than that of an associate justice.
Once a decision on a case has been reached, an associate justice may be called upon to write the opinion of the majority. An opinion is the court’s official explanation of how and why they reached their decision on a specific case. Associate justices who vote in the minority may also be called upon to write the dissenting opinion of the minority.
A justice charged with writing the opinion on a high level court, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, may have a tremendous amount of influence on public policy and public opinion. It is considered to be a great honor and privilege to write an opinion on a high level court. Generally speaking, if the chief justice of the court voted with the majority, he makes the decision as to who will write the court’s opinion and may choose to write the opinion personally or assign the responsibility to an associate justice.
Associate justices are selected in a variety of different ways, depending on the specific court they will sit on. Many local governments have a system where associate justices are directly elected by the people and sit on the court for a specific term. When a justice’s term has expired, he must be re-elected to continue to serve as an associate justice.
Other courts, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, provide for associate justices to be appointed to the position. Appointed justices may serve for a specific term or may be receive a lifetime term. For example, an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court is appointed by the President of the United States, subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Upon confirmation, the Associate Justice remains a member of the Supreme Court until resignation, retirement, impeachment or death.
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