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Test your knowledge of the U.S. Supreme Court

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Sun October 2, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • What words are inscribed on the east exterior face of the court building?
  • What was the previous number of justices on the court?
  • Who had the worst record for getting approval of court nominees?

Washington (CNN) -- The Supreme Court opens its 2011-12 term on Wednesday. Just how much do you know about the court? Here's a quiz to help you find out.

(3 points for each correct multiple choice answer.)

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1. The famous words "Equal Justice Under Law" are carved in marble on the Supreme Court building's west exterior face. What are the words on the east exterior face, at the back of the building?

a. Lex hac edictali (Latin for "The Law Here Proclaims")

b. Justice the Guardian of Liberty

c. Supreme Court of the United States A.D. 1935 (the year the courthouse opened)

d. The Rule of Law - Our Noble Inheritance

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2. Which justice recently presided over a mental competency hearing for Hamlet in a mock trial featuring real-life actors, celebrity lawyers and a jury that ultimately ruled against Shakespeare's Danish prince?

a. Stephen Breyer

b. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

c. Sandra Day O'Connor

d. Anthony Kennedy

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3. Which justice has been treated for Type 1 diabetes since age 8?

a. John Roberts

b. Sonia Sotomayor

c. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

d. Clarence Thomas

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4. The Supreme Court did not always have nine justices sitting on the bench. What was the previous number?

a. 6

b. 7

c. 10

d. All of the above

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5. Which actor did not play the role of a Supreme Court justice in a movie, play, or television show?

a. Laurence Fishburne

b. James Garner

c. Gregory Peck

d. Justice Harry Blackmun

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6. What now superfluous courtroom item is placed by tradition on the desks of lawyers arguing before the high court?

a. Judicial "bench" wig

b. Quill pens

c. A reproduction of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

d. A pair of snuff boxes dating from 1790, when the court first met in New York City

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7. President Franklin Roosevelt had perhaps the greatest success rate for a large number of Supreme Court nominations-- all nine of his choices were confirmed. Who had the comparatively worst appointment record?

a. John Tyler

b. Abraham Lincoln

c. William Howard Taft

c. Richard Nixon

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8. Every current justice graduated from Yale or Harvard law schools except:

a. Clarence Thomas

b. Samuel Alito

c. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

d. Sonia Sotomayor

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9. Who went skeet shooting recently with Justice Antonin Scalia at a local gun club?

a. Sonia Sotomayor

b. House Speaker John Boehner

c. Actor and activist George Clooney

d. Elena Kagan

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10. Which current or past justice authored a book on the five chief justices he or she has known over the decades?

a. John Paul Stevens

b. Sandra Day O'Connor

c. Felix Frankfurter

d. Samuel Alito

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BONUS #1 (2 points for each correct answer)

Match the justice with his own unique description of the Supreme Court

1. Oliver Wendell Holmes a. "Nine scorpions in a bottle."

2. Robert Jackson b. "We are not final because we are infallible, we are infallible because we are final."

3. William Howard Taft c. "Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever."

4. Warren Burger d. "It is not possible to arrange for any broadcast of any Supreme Court proceeding, but when you get the Cabinet meetings on the air, call me."

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BONUS #2 (5 points for each correct answer)

Match the case with the landmark issue decided by the Supreme Court

1. Loving v. Virginia A. Affirmed Congress' broad power to regulate commerce

2. Gibbons v. Ogden B. Power of public schools to limit a student's First Amendment rights of expression

3. Grutter v. Bollinger C. Consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions

4. Tinker v. Des Moines D. Struck down state laws banning interracial marriage

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ANSWERS

1. b The words came at the suggestion of then-Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes in 1932. Above the phrase are carved marble figures that include a tortoise and a hare, contrasting symbols of the judge's need to deliberate slowly but steadily.

2. d

3. b She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 7, and continues to take daily insulin injections.

4. d The number of justices changed six times before Congress in 1869 settled on the present total of nine.

5. c Fishburne played Justice Thurgood Marshall in "Thurgood" on Broadway in 2008; Garner played the fictional Chief Justice Thomas Brankin in the 2002 TV series "First Monday"; and retired Justice Blackmun played the real-life Justice Joseph Story in "Amistad" in 1997, based on the famous 1839 high court case.

6. b

7. a Within a 13-month period Tyler made nine nominations to the Court and only one was successful. The appointments were to fill two vacancies, and they were used up on five men, some of whom were nominated more than once.

8. c Although she attended Harvard her first two years, Ginsburg transferred to Columbia and graduated in 1959 at the top of her class.

9. d

10. a Stevens' memoir "Five Chiefs" will be published in early October. It includes commentary on current Chief Justice John Roberts.

BONUS #1 1. A 2. B 3. C 4.D

BONUS #2 1. D The 1967 ruling by Chief Justice Earl Warren was unanimous. Mildred and Richard Loving lived in Virginia, but were forced to marry out of state.

2. A The 1824 ruling was authored by Chief Justice John Marshall, and gave further weight to certain key areas of federal authority, over those favoring states' rights.

3. C The 2003 ruling was authored by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who said the Constitution "does not prohibit the [University of Michigan] law school's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body."

4. B The 1967 ruling was authored by Justice Abe Fortas. Two high school siblings had been suspended for wearing black arm bands on campus, protesting the Vietnam War. They won their appeal.

SCORECARD

50 - 58 points Terrific - Get your robes fitted as the 10th justice!

35 - 49 points Very Good - Ready to argue your case before the Supreme Court

20 - 34 points Above Average - Maybe not a lawyer, but you could play one on TV

10 - 19 points Average - On the right side of the law

0 - 9 points Below Average - Objection sustained

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