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The U.S. Court System


The U.S. Court System There are 2 court systems in the United States: State and Federal. State courts hear most of the cases in this country In addition, there are ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The U.S. Court System

The U.S. Court System
  • There are 2 court systems in the United States
    State and Federal.
  • State courts hear most of the cases in this
  • In addition, there are civil courts and criminal
    courts, at both the State and Federal levels
  • Courts interpret legislation (Article III of
  • 2 Views of Constitutional languagestrict
    constructionist (Jefferson) and loose
    constructionist (Hamilton)loose constructionists
    are often labeled Activist by Republicans
  • Federalist 78 Judiciary least dangerous
    because it has no influence over the sword or
    the purse.

Why a Natl Court System?????
  • Under the Articles of Confederation, there was no
    national judiciary
  • Decisions by courts in one State were ignored by
    courts in other states
  • Laws would be meaningless unless Courts could
    define their true meaning and operation.
    (Hamilton, Federalist 78)

Marbury v. Madison (1803)
  • Congress passes Judiciary Act of 1789 to flesh
    out Constitution
  • Section 13 Gave SC original jurisdiction in
    certain cases
  • William Marbury was appointed a Justice of the
    Peace for DC in the final hours of the Adams
    Presidencycommission not delivered, and
    Jefferson took over and new Secretary of State
    Madison ignored the commission

Marbury contd
  • Marbury sued for his commission (Marshall was
    actually the former Secretary of State that was
    supposed to deliver the commission!!)
  • SC granted certiorari
  • But Marshall has a problemif he orders
    commission delivered, he will be
    ignored/impeached.if he does not, power of the
    Court will be weakened

More Marbury
  • 3 questions of the case
  • Does Marbury have a right to his commission? YES.
  • Do the laws of this country afford him a remedy?
  • Can this Court issue the writ of mandamus?
    NObecause Section 13, Judiciary Act of 1789
    provided the Supreme Court with original
    jurisdiction in cases in a fashion contrary to
    the Constitution

More Marbury
  • 3 questions of the case
  • Does Marbury have a right to his commission? YES.
  • Do the laws of this country afford him a remedy?
  • Can this Court issue the writ of mandamus?
    NObecause Section 13, Judiciary Act of 1789
    provided the Supreme Court with original
    jurisdiction in cases in a fashion contrary to
    the Constitution
  • 1st case to declare a law or part of a law
    unconstitutional, and therefore null and void
  • Not the first to test a law, Hylton v. U.S.
    (1796) had upheld constitutionality of 20
    carriage tax
  • Justice Gibson, in a Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    case, Eakin v. Raub, tried to dismiss the power
    of judicial review, fails
  • Judicial Review a fixture of American

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
  • National Bank of the United states created
    1794debate between Hamilton and Jefferson
  • Maryland decides to place a tax on notes at the
    Baltimore branch of BUS
  • McCulloch, bank cashier, refuses to pay tax

  • United States takes MD to court
  • Supreme Court grants certiorari (cert)
  • Marshall Supremacy clause makes federal law
  • Power to tax means the power to destroy, so
    MDs taxation of the bank is unconstitutionalstat
    es cannot impede Congress

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)
  • Facts In 1834, Dred Scott, a Negro slave
    belonging to Dr. Emerson, a surgeon in the United
    States Army, was taken by his master to Rock
    Island, Illinois, where slavery was prohibited by
    statute. Later he was taken, in 1836, to Fort
    Snelling, in the Territory of Louisiana, which
    was north of the line of 36 30', and
    consequently an area in which slavery had been
    forbidden by the Missouri Compromise. In 1838, he
    was brought back to Missouri, and in 1847 brought
    suit in the Missouri Circuit Court to obtain
  • Issue Can a black slave become a member of the
    political community formed and brought into
    existence by the Constitution of the United
    States and as such become entitled to all the
    rights and privileges guaranteed by the
    Constitution to the citizen?
  • Decision No. (vote 7-2) 
  • It was therefore the opinion of the Court that
    the Act of Congress (The Missouri Compromise)
    which prohibited a citizen from holding property
    of this kind north of the line mentioned was not
    warranted in the Constitution, and was therefore

Government and the Economy
  • Commerce Clause interpretationgradually Court
    has declared almost everything interstate
    commerce which makes it regulatable by Congress
  • Court always protected property rights
  • 14th Amendment also protected private/corporate
    property from arbitrary actions of government
  • Selective Incorporation of Bill of Rights
  • Court workload rose sharply 800/900
    unconstitutional federal laws after 1868
  • Upheld injunctions to prevent labor strikes,
    limited antitrust law, restricted ICC (Interstate
    Commerce Commission) from setting railroad rates,
    prohibited Federal Govt from banning child
    labor changed its mind later and allowed some
    state controlsantiliquor laws, wage/hour

Government Political Liberty
  • From 1936-1974, the Supreme Court did not
    overturn a single federal law that was designed
    to regulate business, but it did shoot down 36
    laws that violated personal libertieslike laws
    that restricted freedom of speech, revoked
    citizenship, or withheld mail
  • Roosevelts Court Packing Scheme All started
    when NRA part of NIRA got tossed. (We do our
  • Was Social Security Next? Roosevelt offers
    mandatory retirement plan for SC at age 70, or he
    should be allowed to appoint new justices.
    Claims mandate from 1936 election. Public
    horrified, and plan unnecessary, as Owen Roberts
    changed his mind on some issues

Reviving State Sovereignty
  • There are limits on what Congress may do, and the
    SC has recognized this in recent years.
  • Struck down
  • Federal law banning the possession of weapons
    near schools
  • Laws that gave Indian tribes right to sue states
    in Federal courts
  • Brady Bill provision requiring local law
    enforcement officers to do background checks

Types of Federal Courts
  • Constitutional Courtsestablished under the
    authority of Article IIISupreme Court, Courts of
    Appeals, District Courts, and the Court of
    International Trade
  • Special Courtscreated by Congress to hear cases
    arising out of the expressed powers of Congress.
    EX Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the
    Court of Veterans Appeals, the Claims Court, the
    Tax Court, and the courts in the District of
  • Legislative Courtsset up by Congress for a
    specific purpose, fixed terms for Judges (Court
    of Military Appeals)

Federal Court Jurisdiction
  • Jurisdictionthe authority of a court to hear and
    decide a case.
  • Federal Courts may hear a case on subject matter
    or Party jurisdiction
  • Subject matter jurisdiction is limited to
  • Federal law/Constitutional questions OR
    Admiralty/Maritime law
  • Jurisdiction requirement also met if parties are
    1) U.S. or one of its officers, 2) An ambassador
    or other foreign rep, or 3) a State suing another
    state, citizen of a foreign government, American
    suing foreign govt, citizen of one state suing a
    citizen in another state (dispute over 75,000)

Types of Jurisdiction
  • Original Jurisdictiona court in which a case is
    heard first
  • Appellate JurisdictionA court that hears a case
    on appeal from a lower court practices this
  • Appellate courts may affirm, reverse, and/or
    remand the decision
  • --------------------------------------------------
  • Exclusive Jurisdiction
  • Concurrent JurisdictionState and Federal Courts
    share jurisdiction, although diverse
    citizenship is less of a problem today..requires
    75K dispute
  • Subject Matter JurisdictionFederal Question
  • Party Jurisdictioncomplex relationship

Parties in a Court Case
  • Plaintiffbrings the suit
  • Defendantdefends themselves from the plaintiffs
  • Defendants have the right to initiate a
    countersuit against the defendant

The Appointment of Judges
  • Judges are appointed by the President with
    advice and consent of the Senate (Article II,
    S.2, C.2)
  • Rule of Senatorial CourtesyPresident, before
    making an appointment, will confer with the two
    Senators from the home state, to ensure that
    those Senators approve of the appointment (magic
    blue slip) --NOT used w/ SC justices
  • Senate must approve judge, will hold hearings
  • Difficult to judge ideology Presidents can and
    do make mistakes (Bush Sr. and David Souter).
    To avoid this, judges must pass litmus
    testtest of ideological purity
  • Democrats try to make sure American Bar
    Association plays a role, and want judges who are
  • Nominee can be anyone but usually is a legal
    scholar or current judge

Terms and Pay of Judges
  • Judges in Constitutional courts are appointed for
    lifeensures independence of the federal
  • Claims Court, Military Appeals, Veterans Appeals
    15 yr. Term
  • Tax Court10 yrs
  • Territorial courts10 yr term
  • Congress sets salaries over 130,000
  • Generous retirement plan
  • Hold their office during good behavior
  • Can be impeached 13 have been, 7 removed
  • Best example Judge Pickering (NH)
    1804Misconduct and drunkenness

Court Officers
  • Clerks/Deputy clerks
  • Stenographers
  • Bailiffs
  • At least 1 magistrate per district courtissue
    arrest warrants, hear evidence presented by
    prosecutors to determine if grand jury should be
    convened, set bail (8-year term)
  • 1 bankruptcy judge (currenty 326 14-yr. term)
  • U.S. Attorney appointed to each federal district
    prosecute and represent U.S. in all cases (4 yr.
  • United States marshalslike county sheriffs (4 yr

New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985)
  • Student at HS searched on suspicion of smoking,
    searched and later confessed to
    possession/distribution of marijuana
  • Student sentenced to 1 year probation
  • Appealed to New Jersey State Supreme Court, which
    overturned the conviction because the
  • search violated students 1st and 14th
    Amendment rights and the Exclusionary rule must
    be applied
  • NJ appealed to Supreme Court
  • Court decided that the Reasonable suspicion
    standard replaces probable cause requirement
    when you walk into schoolTLOs conviction stands

The Inferior Courts An Overview
  • District Courtsoriginal jurisdiction
  • Courts of Appealsappellate jurisdiction only
  • Other Constitutional Courts
  • Now lets examine these one by one!

The District Courts
  • 632 judges, 300,000 cases/year (roughly 80 of
  • Created by 1789 Judiciary Act
  • 94 districtseach state 1 district, some states
    multiple districts (PR and DC also districts)
  • Cases usually heard by a single judge, but
    certain cases heard by panels of 3 (redistricting
    questions, civil rights, voting law qs)
  • Have original jurisdiction in civil and criminal
    cases, everything from bankruptcy to murder
    counterfeiting, armed robbery
  • Regularly use grand juries
  • Decisions can be appealed to Court of Appeals or
    directly to the Supreme Court

The Courts of Appeals
  • Created in 1891 to alleviate pressure on SC
  • Currently 12 Courts of Appeals 11 judicial
    circuits and 1 for D.C.
  • 179 judges plus a SC justice is assigned to each
  • Usually panels of three hear a case can sit en
  • Only appellate jurisdiction from District Courts
    or Tax Courts/Territorial Courts/Quasi-judicial
    agencies like Federal Trade Commission
  • 40,000 cases a year

Other Constitutional Courts
  • The Court of International TradeFormed in 1890
    as Board of General Appraisers, restructured in
    1980. 9 judges, hears cases based on tariff law,
    trade laws. Panels of 3, serve in major port
  • Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuitcreated
    1982, nationwide jurisdiction, can hear appeals
    from many courts, 12 judges

The Supreme Court
  • Mandated by Constitution
  • Size determined by Congress, can change
  • Currently 8 associate justices plus a Chief
  • Chief Justice or Associate Justices are appointed
    by President and confirmed by Senate when there
    is a vacancy
  • Has Original jurisdiction in only 2 instances
    when states are parties or when the case involves
    ambassadors or other public officials
  • Has Appellate jurisdiction in other matters,
    provided that there is some kind of a federal
    question on either a federal law or
    constitutional provision

How Can Cases Reach the Supreme Court?
  • By certificatelower court requests SC to help
    them decide which rule should apply
  • But most cases arrive via a writ of certiorarian
    order from the SC to a lower court directing the
    case to be sent up for reviewcan actually be
    given without a lower court decision
  • Rule of 4 required for certiorari (L. To be
    made more certain
  • When cert is denied, lower court decision stands
  • Cert granted usually when 1) 2 or more Federal
    Circuit Courts of Appeals have disagreed or 2)
    Highest court in a state has held a federal or
    state law either valid or in violation of the

Litigating a Supreme Court Case
  • Court term begins 1st Monday in October, goes
    till July
  • Dates are set for oral arguments half-hour for
    each side, justices can and do interrupt
  • Both sides file briefssets out facts, lower
    court ruling, opinion of attorneys
  • Other interested parties file amicus curiae
    (friend of the Court) briefs, require Court
    permission or request
  • Solicitor General represents the United States in
    all cases where the U.S. is a party
  • Justices conference Wed. and Fri Chief Justice
    leads discussion, others by seniority. Then,
    justices debate/vote
  • If CJ is in majority, CJ writes majority opinion
  • Justices can write concurring or dissenting
  • Per curiam opinions are brief, unsigned

The Special Courts
  • U.S. Federal Claims Courtwhere you go to sue the
    federal government (must get permission because
    of the doctrine of sovereign immunity). 16
    judges, 15 year term. Even if you lose, Congress
    can vote compensation
  • Territorial Courts
  • Courts of District of Columbia
  • Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces15 yr
    terms, judges not members of military
  • United States Tax Court (1969)12 yr. Term..civil
    cases ONLY
  • United States Court of Veterans Appeals (1988)-
    15 year terms

Getting to Court
  • Theoretically, courts are great equalizer. But
    SC rejects 96 of cases, and court fees and
    lawyers fees put a hurt on you
  • Indigents can file in forma pauperis.
  • ACLU support sometimes available
  • Ditto for the NAACP
  • Fee shifting more and more common
  • Section 1983, Chapter 42 U.S.C. you can sue
    government officials if they deprive you of
    rights and collect from the government

The First Hurdle Standing
  • Standing is a legal concept that refers to who is
    entitled to bring a case
  • Must be an actual controversy in cases
  • You must show that you have been harmed
  • Mere status as a taxpayer does not give you
  • Recently, its easier to get standingyou can sue
    govt officials and agencies to do something.
  • Remember, though, the government is protected by
    the doctrine of sovereign immunity. All
    governments enjoy this right.
  • Standing in international law Individuals cant
    sue governments can and may choose to pass
    winnings to the harmed party

Class-Action Suits
  • Citizens may benefit from a court decision even
    if they are not directly involved
  • Usually, you are informed of the case and given
    the chance to opt out. Otherwise, you are bound
    by the decision
  • Recent examples Yaz birth control pill, PayPal,
    Vioxx, Health Care costs, utility overcharging,
  • Best example Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)
  • Facts A series of cases went to the Supreme
    Court from the states of Kansas, South Carolina,
    Virginia, and Delaware. Since all of the cases
    involved the same basic problem-black minors,
    through their legal representatives, seeking the
    aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the
    public schools of their respective communities on
    a nonsegregated basis-all were determined by one
    decision of the Court. In the various states, the
    black children were of elementary or high school
    age or both. Segregation requirements were on a
    statutory and state constitutional basis except
    in Kansas where only statutory provisions were
  • Issue Does segregation of children in public
    schools solely on the basis of race, even though
    the physical facilities and other "tangible"
    factors may be equal, deprive the children of the
    minority group of equal educational
  • Decision 9-0, ignores Stare Decisis from Plessy
    case. Separate but equal is NOT CONSTITUTIONAL,
    violates 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause.

Judicial Activism
  • Example Supreme Court decided that 1964 Civil
    rights Act makes it mandatory for San Francisco
    school system to teach English as a second
  • Liberals say courts are last resort
  • Conservatives Judges should merely interpret,
    not legislate (Bush v. Gore)
  • Expect more activism as more people file
    lawsuitsalso contributing factors
  • Sheer growth of government
  • Increasingly vague laws
  • Some laws (like regulations) induce lawsuits

Bush v. Gore
  • The Florida Secretary of State was by state law
    empowered to interpret state election laws. When
    Democrats demanded a recount of votes in four
    predominantly Democratic counties, she made two
    major decisions
  • 1. Counties must certify returns by the November
    14 deadline. This was supported by Florida law.
  • 2. Only ballots with machine errors could be
    recounted. This ruling was challenged as not
    being supported by the Florida statutes. These 2
    decisions had the effect of stopping manual
  • When a circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled
    that the Florida Secretary of State was empowered
    to discard the hand counts in the final count,
    Gore went to the Florida Supreme Court, which
    reinstated the recount.
  • Bush went to the federal courts and ultimately to
    the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. Reason
    Counting only some votes without a uniform
    standard is a violation of the 14th Amendments
    Equal Protection Clause.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court stopped the recount and
    ruled in a two-part decision
  • 1. The Florida election canvassing process, with
    its arbitrary multi-ballot system, was
    constitutionally flawed. (vote 7-2)
  • 2. A recount of any kind cannot guarantee
    constitutional protection if it were to proceed
    at the final hour (late evening, December 12,
    2000). In effect "Time's up." (vote 5-4)

Checks on the Judiciary
  • Courtsconfirmations, impeachment, of judges
    and courts, laws regarding lawsuits, and
    Constitutional amendments (11th, 14th, 15th,
    16th, 26th)
  • Public OpinionJudges read newspapers too. Public
    support of SC varies with support of government
  • Reagan, Carter composition of current court
  • Congress decides jurisdiction Ex Parte McCardle,
    cases on Civil Rights (decisions tempered by
    Congressional threats)

Ex Parte McCardle (1868)
  • Facts The Constitution assigns appellate
    jurisdiction to the Supreme Court with "such
    exceptions, and under such regulations, as the
    Congress shall make." In February, 1867 Congress
    passed an act providing for the exercise by the
    Supreme Court of appellate jurisdiction in the
    matter of writs of habeas corpus in cases where
    persons were restrained in violation of the
    Constitution, or of any treaty or law of the
    United States. McCardle was held in custody by
    military authority for trial before a military
    commission for the publication of incendiary and
    libelous articles in a newspaper that he edited.
    Before the judges acted upon his appeal, the act
    providing for the appellate jurisdiction was
    repealed. Congress didnt want its policy
  • Issue Does the Court have appellate jurisdiction
    in a case after the act pertaining to such
    jurisdiction has been repealed?
  • Decision No.

Chapter 16 Learning Objectives
  • After reading and reviewing the material in this
    chapter, the student should be able to do each of
    the following
  • 1. Explain what judicial review is and trace its
  • 2. List and comment on the three eras of varying
    Supreme Court influences on national policy.
  • 3. Explain what is meant by a dual court system
    and describe its effects on how cases are
    processed, decided, and appealed.
  • 4. List the various steps that cases go through
    to reach the Supreme Court and explain the
    considerations involved at each step.
  • 5. Discuss the dimensions of power exercised
    today by the Supreme Court and the opposing
    viewpoints on an activist Supreme Court.