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Supreme Court: final arbiter of justice in the United States

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, anchor of the court's liberal faction, could give President Donald Trump a chance to lock in a conservative majority for decades to come.

FILE: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had surgery to remove two cancerous nodules from her left lung. US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks at an annual Women's History Month reception hosted by Pelosi in the US Capitol building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Picture: AFP

WASHINGTON - In a cavernous building across from the US Capitol, the Supreme Court sits as the final arbiter on fundamental American legal matters, which can include minority and LGBTQ rights, racism, the death penalty and electoral controversies.

Created under Article III of the Constitution, the court consists of a chief justice and eight associate justices - all of whom are appointed for life.

The death on Friday of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, anchor of the court's liberal faction, could give President Donald Trump a chance to lock in a conservative majority for decades to come.

Though Democratic challenger for the White House Joe Biden has warned the president has no right to name a successor so close to the November 3 election, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to hold a vote on a Trump nominee to take Ginsburg's place.

Trump has already named two firmly conservative justices to the Supreme Court during his term: Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Justices sometimes finish their careers by resigning their post, while others serve on the court until they die.

They can retire from age 70, but rarely do so. Ginsburg, at 87, was the oldest sitting justice.

The court's remaining liberal judges include Sonia Sotomayor, 66, and Elena Kagan, 60 - both appointed by president Barack Obama - and Stephen Breyer, 82.

Aside from Gorsuch, 53, and Kavanaugh, 55, conservatives on the bench include Chief Justice John Roberts, 65, Samuel Alito, 70, and Clarence Thomas, 72, the court's only black member, known for virtually never speaking during oral arguments.

Like all civil servants and US presidents, Supreme Court justices can be impeached and removed from office if found guilty of treason, corruption or other high crimes, but this has yet to happen.

Since the court was established, a new appointee has been named by the president roughly every two years, and justices have served for an average of about 15 years.

Some serve much longer, however. Anthony Kennedy, who retired in 2018, was appointed in 1987 by president Ronald Reagan and confirmed the following year.

Ginsburg was appointed in 1993 by president Bill Clinton.