Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Since President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the Supreme Court, the topic of Supreme Court appointments has made news again. This is nothing new -- these appointments have been matters of tremendous importance to American law almost since the inception of the United States.

A president's nomination to the Supreme Court can make a profound impression on history, so it's important to understand how these appointments work. From how justices are nominated, to who's qualified to serve and how a nominee is approved, it's a pretty involved process. And of course, there are some complicated politics that come into play. We'll start with the basics on the next page.