American law stems from English legal tradition. Unlike many other countries, English law is based on common law. Common law is judge-made law based initially on the prevailing custom and eventually on legal precedent . Common law is based on stare decisis , which means to stand on decided cases. If a legal situation occurs that has previously been decided, the decision in the initial case is binding on the current situation. The major advantages to this type of system are efficiency and stability.
Plaintiff , the person or organization that initiates a lawsuit. Defendant , the person or organization against whom the lawsuit is brought. Litigate , to engage in a legal proceeding or seek relief in a court of law; to carry on a lawsuit.
Amicus Curiae brief , a brief (a document containing a legal argument supporting a desired outcome in a particular case) filed by a third party, or amicus curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”), who is not directly involved in the litigation but who has an interest in the outcome of the case. Civil contempt is failing to comply with a court’s order for the benefit of another party. Criminal contempt is obstructing the administration of justice or bringing the court into disrespect.
What is the Judiciary???
• Primary role: Adjudication
• Most political systems have specialized
structures of the judiciary
– Most judicial structures are hierarchical
– Countries without judicial structures
– Islamic countries that adhere to sharia law (Ex.
• The English legal tradition of common
• Common law
– judge-made law based initially on the
prevailing custom and eventually on legal
• Stare Decisis, which means to “stand on
Sources of American Law
• Statutes and Administrative Regulations
• Case Law
Development of the Court’s Role in
• Judicial Review
• Marbury v. Madison
• National Supremacy
The Warren Court
• Outlawed official racial segregation in public
• Set strict national standards to protect the rights
of criminal defendants.
• Required the equal apportionment of state
legislatures and the House of Representatives.
• Ruled that prayers and Bible reading in public
schools were unconstitutional.
The Burger Court
• Narrowed the reach of the Fourth Amendment’s
protections against unreasonable search and
• Restored the death penalty.
• Many decisions still protected individual liberties
and minority groups.
The Rehnquist Court
• By 1988, the Court shifted in a
conservative direction, giving public school
officials the right to censor school
newspapers and plays, for example.
• More difficult for workers to sue employers
Types of Federal Courts
• U.S. District Courts
• U.S. Courts of Appeals
• The United States Supreme Court
• Specialized Federal Courts and the War
– FISA Court
– Alien “Removal Courts”
The Federal Court System
• Basic Judicial Requirements
– The case involves a federal question
– The case involves diversity of citizenship
• Standing to Sue
Parties and Procedures
• Amicus Curiae brief
• Procedural Rules
– Civil contempt
• is failing to comply with a court’s order for the
benefit of another party
– Criminal contempt –
• obstructing the administration of justice or bringing
the court into disrespect.
Which Cases Reach the
• When two lower courts
are in disagreement
• When a lower court’s
ruling conflicts with an
existing Supreme Court
• When a case has broad
– ex. desegregation or
• When a state court has
decided a substantial
• When the highest state
court holds a federal law
invalid, or upholds a state
law that has been
challenged as violating a
• When a federal court
holds an act of Congress
Cases Before the Court
• Granting Petitions for Review.
– Writ of Certiorari
• Minimum of four justices must agree that
the case should be heard by the Supreme
Court (the “rule of four”).
1. submit legal briefs and (usually) make
2. Unanimous ruling
• one justice writes the opinion of the Court.
1. If divided
• majority opinion and dissenting opinions.
of Federal Judges
• Judicial Appointments
– Federal District Court Judgeship Nominations
– Federal Courts of Appeals Appointments
– Supreme Court Appointments
• Senate has to approve
Ideology and the Courts
• The ideology of the justices determines
the kinds of policy that the courts will