What does justice mean and how do
the courts secure it for US citizens?
Sources of law
The three levels of the federal court
Key Supreme Court cases impacting
•The Judicial Branch
Equal Justice Under the Law
- Laws exist to protect
people and promote the
common good for all.
The Three P’s
Criminal law - refers to a
group of laws that define
what acts are crimes
1. Crime is any behavior
that is illegal.
CIVIL LAW - refers to disputes
between two people – Think 7th
Amendment from BILL OF RIGHTS
Sources of Law
Statutory Law - Laws passed by Lawmaking Bodies -
Congress, State Government, Local Governments, etc.
- Common Law – Laws based on previously decided
court cases (These serve as PRECEDENT and the
judge uses those prior ruling to help decide his case),
traditions, and common sense
- Administrative Law – Laws created by government
agencies for businesses and corporations to follow –
Think REGULATORY COMMISSIONS from last
- Constitutional Law – Laws outlined in the Constitution
**** THIS IS THE SUPREME LAW OF THE LAND****
Rights of Citizens
- Regardless of what type of law is broken,
the accused is guaranteed rights afforded in
3.SPEEDY AND FAIR Trial
4.Representation or right to an attorney
5.If found guilty - Freedom from Cruel
and UNUSUAL punishment
Federal Court System – There are 3 levels.
US District Courts
•District Courts are the lowest court but they have
ORIGINAL JURISDICTION or the authority to hear and
decide a case for the first time.
•There are 94 District Courts in the US w/ at least 1 in
every state and D.C. (Pittsburgh, Scranton,
•Run by District Judges who are trial judges for both
criminal and civil cases. They are appointed by the
PRESIDENT for LIFE.
US Court of APPEALS
•If the losing side in the US District Court appeals or
challenges the results, the case is taken to the court
of appeals. They have APPELLATE JURISDICTION
- authority to hear appeals.
•The 94 District Courts are divided into 13 sections
or CIRCUITS (PA, NJ, DE). Each circuit has its own
Appellate Court (3rd Circuit Court is in Philadelphia)
•Judges are appointed for LIFE, but they do not
hear trials. Rather, they examine case and rule if
the original ruling was CONSTITUTIONAL OR NOT.
•Majority vote says ruling upheld (no change) or
they can send it back to District Court for a new trial.
US Supreme Court -The HIGHEST Court in the land.
•Located in Washington D.C., it is mainly an appeals court for
both individuals and states. It also rules on the constitutionality
of acts of CONGRESS and the PRESIDENT.
•The decision of the ****9***** Justices is final. The head or lead
justice is called the CHIEF Justice.
•JUDICIAL REVIEW - Ruling on whether laws are constitutional
* Established through MARBURY VS. MADISON
i. History – Outgoing president John Adams tried to appoint as many
judges as possible before being replaced by Thomas Jefferson. New
Sec. of State Madison refused this. Marbury, a newly appointed
judge, sued saying the Judiciary Act of 1789 gave the Supreme Court
the power to force Madison to give him the job. Chief Justice
Marshall ruled that the Judiciary Act (an act of Congress) was
unconstitutional and Marbury could not get is appointment.
a. Although over 7000 cases are filed with the
Supreme Court each year only 150 +/ or so are
b. FOUR OUT OF NINE or 4/9 Justices must
vote to hear a case. (Rule of Four)
c. They can refuse altogether or remand – return
the case to a lower court.
•Hearing and deciding cases
a. Only ORAL arguments are presented.
b. Lawyers have 30 minutes to present
c. Decisions are made by simple majority
d. OPINIONS are given to explain why the court has
deliberated or decided the way it has
i. MAJORITY OPINION - One justice writes as to
why the majority agreed
ii. Concurring opinion written if a justice votes with
majority but for a different reason.
iii. DISSENTING OPINION - Why the minority
disagreed with the majority
iv. Neither has any real effect but it can later be
used if court rehears the case.
*** Dissenting opinion in Plessey v. Ferguson
impacting concurring opinion in Brown v. Board of
1.As a whole the actions of the Supreme Court
are used to strengthen the rights of citizens.
a.Brown v. Board of Education