PS 101 Chapter 13 Notes-The Courts
o JudiciaryAct of 1789: The law in which Congress laid out the organization of
the federal judiciary. The law refined and classified federal court jurisdiction
and set the original number of justices at 6. It also created the Office of the
Attorney General and established the lower federal courts.
o District courts: Lower-level trail courts of the federal judicial system that
handles most U.S federal cases.
o Appellate jurisdiction: The authority of a court to hear appeals from lower
courts and change or uphold the decision.
o Judicial review: The Supreme Court’s power to strike down a law or executive
branch action that it finds unconstitutional.
o Writs of mandamus: Order issued by a higher court to a lower court,
government official, or government agency to perform acts required by law.
o Constitutional Interpretation: The process of determining whether a piece of
legislation of governmental action is supported by the Constitution.
o Statutory Interpretation: The various methods and tests used by the courts for
determining and meaning of a law and applying it to specific situations.
Congress may overturn the courts’interpretation by writing a new law; thus it
also engages in statutory interpretation.
o Plaintiff: The person or party who brings a case to court
o Defendant: The person or party against whom a case is brought
o Verdict: The final decision in a court case
o Plea Bargain:An agreement between a plaintiff and defendant to settle a case
before it goes to trial or the verdict is decided. In a civil case this usually
involves an admission of guilt in return for a reduced charge or sentence.
o Standard of proof: The amount of evidence needed to determine the outcome
of a case. The standard is higher in a criminal case than in a civil one.
o Burden of proof: The responsibility of having to prove guilt; it rests with the
plaintiff in criminal cases but could be with either party in a civil trial.
o Class action lawsuit:Acase brought by a group of individuals on behalf of
themselves and others in the general public who are in similar circumstances.
o Adversarial System:Atwo-sided court structure in which lawyers on both
sides of a case attempt to prove their argument over their opponent’s version
of the case
o Common Law: Law based on the precedent of previous court rulings rather
than on legislation. It is used in all federal courts and forty nine of the fifty
o Precedent:Alegal norm established in court cases that is in then applied to
future cases dealing with the same legal questions
o Standing: Legitimate justification for bringing a civil case to court
o Senatorial Courtesy: Anorm in the nomination of district court judges in
which the president consults with his party’s senators from the relevant state
in choosing the nominee.
o Docket: The official schedule of cases in a court of law o Original Jurisdiction: The authority of a court to handle a case first, as in the
Supreme Court’s authority to initially hear disputes between two states.
However, original jurisdiction for the Supreme Court is not exclusive; it may
assign such a case to a lower court.
o Cases appeal: Cases brought before the Supreme Court because Congress has
determined that they require the Court’s attention.
o Writ of Certification:An uncommon way in which a case is brought before the
Supreme Court, whereby an appeals court asks the Court for instructions on a
point of law never before decided.
o Writ of Certiorari: The most common way for a case to reach the Supreme
Court, in which at least four of the nine judges agree to hears a case that has
reached them via an appeal from the losing party in a lower court’s ruling.
o Collusion:Agreement between the litigants on the desired outcome of a case,
causing a federal court to decline to hear the case. More generally, collusion
can refer to any kind of conspiracy or complicity.
o Mootness: The irrelevance of a case by the time it is received by a federal
court, causing the court to decline to hear the case.
o Ripeness:Acriterion that federal courts use to decide whether a case is ready
to be heard. Acase’s ripeness is based on whether its central issue or
controversy has actually taken place.
o Cert pool:Asystem initiated in the Supreme Court in the 1970s in which law
clerks screen cases that come to the Supreme Court and recommended to the
justices which cases should be heard.
o Solicitor General:Apresidential appointee in the Department of Justice who
conducts all litigation on behalf of the federal government before the Supreme
Court and supervises litigation in the federal appellate courts.
o Briefs: Written documents prepared by both parties in a case, and sometimes
by outside groups, presenting their arguments in court.
o Amicus Curaie: Latin for “friend of the court,” referring to an interested group
or person who shapes relevant information about a case to help the Court
reach a decision
o OralArguments: Spoken presentations made in person by the lawyers of each
party to a judge or appellate court outlining the legal reasons why their side
o Strict Construction:Away of interpreting the Constitution based on its
o Original Intent: The theory that justices should surmise the intention of the
Founders when the language of the Constitution is unclear.
o Living Constitution:Away of interpreting the Constitution that takes into
account evolving national attitudes and circumstances rather than the text
o AttitudialistApproach:Away of understanding decisions of the Supreme
Court based on the political ideologies of the justices. o Judicial Restraint: The idea that the Supreme Court should defer to the
democratically elected executive and legislative branches of government
rather than contradicting existing laws.
o Judicial activism: The idea that the Supreme Court should assert its
interpretation of the law even if it overrules the elected executive and
legislative branches of government.
II. Lecture-The Judicial System
A. Constitutional Foundations
1. Constitution established “one Supreme Court,” but left it up to Congress to
decide how the judiciary would be structured
2. JudiciaryAct of 1789 set up a system of federal courts that were independent
of state courts, but coexisted with them
3. Supreme Court did not have a lot of power
B. What Changed?
1. Power of judicial review led to an increase in the power of the Supreme Court
2. Established under the 4 Chief Justice (John Marshall) by decision in Marbury
C. Marbury v. Madison
1. In the closing days of his presidency, JohnAdams makes a bunch of
2. Thomas Jefferson comes to office and feels no compunction to honor these
3. Marbury and others fight back--invoke a law that says that the SC can issue
orders against gov't officials
4. Marshall says this law conflicted withArticle III of the Constitution, so the
original law could not stand
D. Effects of the Decision?
1. Supreme Court became an institution on par with Congress and the President
2. Established that judiciary would serve as an important check on other
a. Compatibility with democratic principles?
3. Gave Supreme Court final word on the Constitution
E. US Court System
1. State courts
a. Every state has its own court system and each is structured differently
b. State and federal courts coexist and we all fall under the jurisdiction of
c. Nearly all legal disputes are handled at the state level
2. Federal courts
a. Highest level— The Supreme Court
b. Middle level—U.S Courts ofAppeals
c. Lowest level—U.S District Courts
F. Structure of U.S. Courts
1. Types of Cases/Offenses
a. Criminal 1. Aviolation of public order or a wrong committed against the whole
2. Punishable by imprisonment, fines, service, and death
1. Disputed claims to something of value or wrongs committed by one person
against another, but which do not harm the community as a whole
2. Divorce, contracts, slander, accidents, etc.
3. Punishable by paying for damages
G. Civil Cases
1. Plaintiff makes a complaint
2. Both sides hire attorneys who make their arguments
3. The court decides
4. Standard of proof “preponderance of evidence”
H. Criminal Cases
1. Police report investigation to prosecutor
2. Prosecutor goes before grand jury to present evidence and convince that
enough exists to make an indictment
3. Government(represented by prosecutor) is the plaintiff, accused is the