The Courts - A Short Course
There are basically two different kinds of courts in the US: Trial Courts and Appellate Courts.
A trial court is venue at which the Facts are established. It is the lowest level of courts and the beginning point of all legal disputes. This is the one and only time that the facts are subject to scrutiny.
The Appellate Courts deal with the law and procedures in a case.
You cannot appeal a conviction because you are innocent, if a trial court has ruled you are guilty, you have to show that there was an error in the interpretation of the law or the procedures used in the trial. Appellate Courts don't review the facts in a case beyond determining whether those facts were legally obtained.
This difference becomes important when you are looking at qualifications for judges. Just because someone is a good lawyer or a good trial court judge is not predictive of how they will perform as an Appellate Court judge.
The Supreme Court is only bound by the Constitution. While they talk about stare decisis
, the Supreme Court is not obligated to abide by previous decisions. The Supreme Court is the most cerebral of courts and the least practical. The justices' intellectual world is a construct based on a document written over two hundred years ago in a language that has undergone many changes. This is environment that is not kind to apprentices, nor to intellectual pretenders.