Chapter 15: The Federal Courts

The Rule of Lawall are equal before the law and none are immune to it
Criminal Lawthe branch of law that regulates the conduct of individuals, defines crimes and specifies punishments for criminal acts
Parameters of Criminal LawGovernment is always plantiff
defendant cannot be forced to testify
standard: guilty beyond any reasonable doubt
penalties: fines, public service, imprisonment and death
Civil Lawthe branch of law that deals with disputes that do not involve criminal parties
Parameters of Civil Lawplantiff is the party that has been legally wronged
defendant can be forced to testify
standard: preponderance of evidence
penalties: typically monetary
Precedentprior case whose principles are used by judges as the basis for their decision in a present case or previous decisions from prior cases that are used to understand how the law is applied
Stare Decisislet the decision stand
Trial courtthe first court to hear a criminal or civil case.
apply law to the facts of a given case
new facts of the case are introduced
judges and juries make sense of how facts relate to law
trial cases take both law and precedent into account
Appellate courtexamine whether the law has been applied correctly in the trial court
new facts cannot be introduced
if new facts are available, case goes back to the trial court
Jurisdictionthe sphere of a court’s power and authority.
Habeas CorpusConstitutional protection against unlawful imprisonment
Original jurisdictionthe authority to initially consider a case or hear a case for the first time.
Appellate jurisdictionthe authority to hear appeals from a lower court’s decision; the power to hear appeals from a lower court
Senatorial Courteseysenators from the president’s party suggest nominees for district courts in their state when an opening appears
Judicial reviewthe power of the courts to review and, if necessary, declare actions of the legislative and executive branches invalid or unconstitutional. The Supreme Court asserted this power in Marbury v. Madison.
Congress’s dilemmamake laws too broad, and the executive branch can subvert them. make them too narrow and they cannot adapt over time
“Cases and Controversies”there must be an actual dispute, not a hypothetical one
Standingthe right of an individual or organization to initiate a court case, on the basis of their having a substantial stake in the outcome; a party must have standing to sue by being a stakeholder in the outcome
Mootnessa criterion used by courts to screen cases that no longer require resolution.
Writ of CertiorariA formal writ used to bring a case before the Supreme Court.
Solicitor GeneralA presidential appointee and the third-ranking office in the Department of Justice. The solicitor general is in charge of the appellate court litigation of the federal government.
Amicus CuriaeA brief submitted by a “friend of the court”
Criminal lawthe branch of law that regulates the conduct of individuals, defines crimes, and specifies punishment for criminal acts.
Plaintiffthe individual or organization that brings a complaint in court.
Defendantthe one against whom a complaint is brought in a criminal or civil case.
Civil lawthe branch of law that deals with disputes that do not involve criminal penalties.
Stare decisisliterally, ‘let the decision stand.’ The doctrine that a previous decision by a court applies as a precedent in similar cases until that decision is overruled.
Court of appealsa court that hears appeals of trial court decisions.
Supreme courtthe highest court in a particular state or in the United States. This court primarily serves an appellate function.
Plea bargaina negotiated agreement in a criminal case in which a defendant agrees to plead guilty in return for the state’s agreement to reduce the severity of the criminal charge or prison sentence the defendant is facing.
Due process of lawthe right of every citizen against arbitrary action by national or state governments.
Writ of habeas corpusa court order that the individual in custody be brought into court and shown the cause for detention. Habeas corpus is guaranteed by the Constitution and can be suspended only in cases of rebellion or invasion.
Chief justicejustice on the Supreme Court who presides over the Court’s public sessions and whose official title is chief justice of the United States.
Senatorial courtesythe practice whereby the president, before formally nominating a person for a federal judgeship, seeks the indication that senators from the candidate’s own state support the nomination.
Supremacy clauseArticle VI of the Constitution, which states that laws passed by the national government and all treaties are the supreme law of the land and superior to all laws adopted by any state or any subdivision.
Common lawlaw made through court precedent rather than legislative enactments.
Writ of certioraria decision of at least four of the nine Supreme Court justices to review a decision of a lower court; certiorari is Latin, meaning ‘to make more certain.’
Solicitor generalthe top government lawyer in all cases before the Supreme Court where the government is a party.
Per curiama brief, unsigned decision by an appellate court, usually rejecting a petition to review the decision of a lower court.
Amicus curiaeliterally, ‘friend of the court’; individuals or groups who are not parties to a lawsuit but who seek to assist the Supreme Court in reaching a decision by presenting additional briefs.
Briefswritten documents in which attorneys explain, using case precedents, why the court should find in favor of their client.
Oral argumentthe stage in Supreme Court procedure in which attorneys for both sides appear before the Court to present their positions and answer questions posed by justices.
Opinionthe written explanation of the Supreme Court’s decision in a particular case.
Dissenting opiniona decision written by a justice in the minority in a particular case in which the justice wishes to express his or her reasoning in the case.
Judicial restraintjudicial philosophy whose adherents refuse to go beyond the clear words of the Constitution in interpreting the document’s meaning.
Judicial activismjudicial philosophy that posits that the Court should go beyond the words of the Constitution or a statute to consider the broader societal implications of its decisions.
Class-action suita legal action by which a group or class of individuals with common interests can file a suit on behalf of everyone who shares that interest.
The Legal System1. Courts decide cases by hearing the facts on both sides of a dispute and applying the relevant law or principle to the facts. Courts have been given the authority to settle disputes not only between citizens but also between citizens and the government. The essence of the “rule of law” is that “the state” and its officials must be judged by the same laws as the citizenry.
2. Court cases in the United States proceed under two broad categories of law: criminal and civil.
3. In the area of criminal law, either a state government or the federal government is the plaintiff that alleges that someone has committed a crime against society.
4. In deciding cases, courts apply statutes and legal precedent (prior decisions).
5. Civil cases are those between individuals or between individuals and the government in which no criminal violation is charged.
6. Jurisdiction is the sphere of authority of a court. By far, most cases are heard by state courts.
7. Cases are heard in federal courts if the U.S. government is a party in the case or if the case involves federal statutes, treaties with other nations, or the U.S. Constitution.
8. Although the federal courts hear only a fraction of all the cases decided every year in the United States, federal court decisions are extremely important.
Federal Jurisdiction1. There are eighty-nine district courts in the fifty states, plus one in the District of Columbia and one in Puerto Rico, and three territorial courts. These courts are trial courts of original jurisdiction, and their cases are, in form, indistinguishable from cases in the state trial courts.
2. The twelve U.S. courts of appeals review and render decisions in approximately 20 percent of all lower-court and agency cases.
3. The Constitution does not specify the number of justices who should sit on the Supreme Court; Congress has the power to change the Court’s size. Since 1869 there have been nine justices—one chief justice and eight associate justices.
4. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country and has the power and the obligation to review any lower-court decision involving a substantial issue of public law, state legislation, or act of Congress.
5. Federal judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by a majority vote of the full Senate.
The Power of the Supreme Court: Judicial Review1. The Supreme Court’s power to review acts of Congress, although accepted as natural and rarely challenged, is not specifically granted by the Constitution. The power of judicial review was asserted in the important early case of Marbury v. Madison (1803).
2. The Supreme Court’s power to review state action or legislation derives from the Constitution’s supremacy clause, although it is neither granted specifically by the Constitution nor inherent in the federal system.
3. Over the years, courts have developed specific rules that govern which cases within their jurisdiction they hear. These rules of access can be broken down into three categories: case or controversy, standing, and mootness.
4. Appeals of lower-court decisions can reach the Supreme Court in one of two ways: through a writ of certiorari, or, in the case of convicted state prisoners, through a writ of habeas corpus.
5. The solicitor general can influence the Court by screening cases before they reach the Supreme Court, submitting amicus briefs, and shaping the arguments used before the Court.
6. Groups and forces in society attempt to influence justices’ rulings on particular issues.
7. After filing written arguments, or briefs, attorneys present oral argument to the Supreme Court. After oral argument, the justices discuss the case and vote on a final decision.
8. The Supreme Court always explains its decisions in terms of law and precedent.
9. Despite the rule of precedent, the Court often reshapes law. Such changes in the interpretation of law can be explained, in part, by changes in the judicial philosophy of activism versus restraint and by changes in political ideology.
Judicial Power and Politics1. For much of American history, the power of the federal courts was subject to several limitations: standing, the limited relief courts could provide, the lack of enforcement powers, political appointment, the power of Congress to change the size and jurisdiction of federal courts, and the fact that courts are reactive—they cannot exercise power on their own initiative.
2. The role of the federal judiciary has been strengthened since World War II by two judicial revolutions. The first revolution was a substantive revolution in several policy areas, including school desegregation, legislative apportionment, and criminal procedure, as well as obscenity, abortion, and voting rights.
3. The second revolution involved changes in judicial procedures that decreased traditional limitations on the courts by liberalizing the concept of standing, broadening the scope of relief through the use of class-action suits, and employing structural remedies that allow courts to maintain supervision over a case until the court is satisfied that its ruling has been met.
Thinking Critically about the Judiciary, Liberty, and Democracy1. In the original conception of the framers of the Constitution, the judiciary was to be the institution that would protect individual liberty from the government. The framers hoped that the courts would protect individual liberty from the potential excesses of majoritarian democracy. The courts’ most important decisions were those that protected the freedoms—to speak, worship, publish, vote, and attend school—of groups and individuals whose political views, religious beliefs, or racial or ethnic backgrounds made them unpopular.
2. Today, Americans of all political persuasions seem to view the courts as useful instruments through which to pursue their goals rather than protectors of individual rights. Liberals and conservatives alike hope to use the courts as instruments of social policy. This raises the concern that if the courts function primarily as policy-making institutions, no institution will have as its primary concerns the protection of individual liberties.
The doctrine of stare decisisis reasoning from precedent
More than ____ percent of all court cases in the United States are heard in ____ courts.99; state
Cases of ____ law are those in which the government charges an individual with violating a statute that has been enacted to protect public health, safety, morals, or welfare.criminal
Unlike in ____ cases, the losers in ____ cases cannot be fined or sent to prison, although they may be required to pay monetary damages for their actions.criminal; civil
Establishing the court that has the power to hear and decide a particular case is calledjurisdiction
Why did Congress confer on federal courts the authority to issue writs of habeas corpus?distrust of southern courts after the Civil War
The U.S. Supreme Court is made up of one chief justice and ____ associate justices.eight
The modern Supreme Court has nine members becauseCongress set the size of the Court at nine members
Justices appointed by presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush have moved the Court in a more ____ direction on issues, including affirmative action and abortion.conservative
In ____ cases, the government is always the plaintiff.criminal
Battles between the president and Congress over federal court nominees have ____ over time.become more common
The three steps in the Supreme Court’s procedures are, in order,preparing briefs, giving oral argument, making and writing opinions
Which of the following concepts is the least related to the other concepts?judicial review
Which of the following court cases set the precedent for judicial review?Marbury v. Madison (1803)
Which of the following influences the flow of cases heard by the Supreme Court?the solicitor general and law clerks
Which of the following is a brief submitted to the Supreme Court by someone other than one of the parties in the case?amicus curiae
Which of the following is not included in the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court?cases involving challenges to the constitutionality of state laws
A ____ is a legal action by which a group of individuals with common interests can file a suit on behalf of everyone who shares that interest.class-action suit
If you were an outside interest group and wanted to influence the Supreme Court’s ruling on a case it will hear next month, what action would have the most influence?Filing an amicus curiae brief
When the Senate refuses to confirm a Supreme Court nominee, it is typically because of his or her ____, not his or her ____.political ideology; qualifications
How have changes in judicial policy areas and judicial procedure affected the power of the federal judiciary since World War II?Both policy and procedure changes have expanded judicial power.
Which of the following would not be accurately characterized as a traditional limitation on the power of the federal courts?The president can dissolve the Supreme Court if it oversteps its powers
Senatorial courtesy refers toa norm whereby the president consults senators of his party from a state where he is appointing a district court judge.
Justices appointed by presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush have moved the court in a move ____ direction on issues, including affirmative action and abortion.conservative
In ___ cases, the government is always the plaintiff.criminal
In what kind of case does the plaintiff charge that it has suffered because of another’s violation of a specific agreement between the two?contract
Stare decisis is a Latin phrase that meanslet the decision stand.
Federal court jurisdiction extends tofederal statutes, treaties, and the U.S. Constitution.
A negotiated agreement in a criminal case in which a defendant agrees to tell the court that he or she is guilty in return for the state’s agreement to reduce the severity of the criminal charge or prison sentence the defendant is facing is known as aplea bargain.
What is the term for a court’s sphere of power and authority?jurisdiction
Which federal judges are appointed for life?All Article III judges are appointed for life.
Known as the Great Writ, ____ is guaranteed by the Constitution and can be suspended only in cases of rebellion or invasion.habeas corpus
The Constitution gives the Supreme Court ____ jurisdiction in cases involving foreign ambassadors and issues in which a state is a party.original
Each _____ court exercises _____ jurisdiction over cases heard by the district courts within its region.circuit; appellate
U.S. district court decisions are made bya single federal judge.
Opinion assignment when he or she is in the majority is an important power of the ____.chief justice
Because the Supreme Court has so much influence over American law and politics, virtuallyshare their political philosophies
all presidents have made an effort to select justices who ____.share their political philosophies
What is the name for the practice whereby the president, before formally nominating a person for a federal judgeship, seeks the indication that senators from the candidate’s own state support the nomination?senatorial courtesy
Judicial review was established in the case of ____Marbury v. Madison.
Why does the solicitor general have such a strong influence on the Supreme Court?The solicitor general screens most cases being appealed by agencies of the federal government and only lets some cases advance.
Justices who disagree with the majority decision of the Court may choose to publicize the character of their disagreement in the form of adissenting opinion.
Today, ____ seem to view the courts as useful instruments through which to pursue their goals.Americans of all political persuasions
Which of the following cases involved the right to privacy?Griswold v. Connecticut