The Judiciary Branch

By: Kelli Kontney

Learning Objective 8.1: Trace the development of the judiciary and origins of judicial review

-Judicial Branch described in Article III of the Constitution

-Framers believed that the Judicial Branch, unlike the Executive Branch where they feared a strong, single leader could become a dictator, did not pose the threat of tyranny

-Article III, Sec 1 describes the process for establishing lower courts

-Article III, Sec 2 describes judicial power of Supreme Court

-Article III- Life tenure

-Checks on the Judicial System

  • The Constitution allows Congress to alter the Supreme Court’s decisions, impeach justices, and make Constitutional amendments to reverse court decisions (Legislative Check)

  • The president appoints all Supreme Court justices (Executive check)

-Checks by the Judicial System

  • Presides over presidential impeachment (Check on Executive)

  • Judicial review: power of the courts to review acts of other branches of government and the states (Check on Executive and Legislative)

-Judiciary Act of 1789: established the basic three-tiered structure of the federal court system

  • bottom: federal district courts

  • middle: circuit courts

  • top: Supreme Court (9 justices)

-John Jay: first Supreme Court chief justice (1790)

  • Lowly branch of government before John Marshall

  • established as an independent, non-political branch of government

  • helped to mold the new government with court decisions

-John Marshall: brought power to the Supreme Court (1801-1835)

  • used practice of seriatim or a series of decisions

  • Helped to establish the supremacy of the national government in Marbury v. Madison (supremacy clause)

  • judicial review also came out of Marbury v. Madison

Learning Objective 10.2: Describe the structure and main components of the American legal system

-Three- tiered system

  • Trial Courts: where cases begin

  • Appellate Courts: reviews findings made by lower courts

  • Supreme Court: last resort court

-Jurisdiction: authority vested in a particular court to hear and decide the issues in a particular case

  • needed for a court to hear a case

  • two types of jurisdiction

-Original jurisdiction: jurisdiction of courts that hear a case first and determine the facts of a case

-Appellate jurisdiction: power vested in a particular court to review or revise the decision of a lower court

-Criminal law: codes of behavior related to the protection of property and individual safety

  • crimes can be graded as felonies, misdemeanors, or offenses.

  • Different states hold different penalties for crimes (e.g. death penalty)

  • assumes society id the victim of the illegal act

  • Ex: the impeachment process (check by the legislative branch on other branches)

-Civil Law: codes of behavior related to the conduct and relationships between individuals or groups

  • usually filed by individuals who think they have been injured by another party (Judge Judy)

  • involve lawsuits to recover something of value

  • some cases are settled before reaching court

-All court cases involve a plaintiff (who brings forth the charge)and a defendant (who is being accused of some sort of crime)

  • cases may involve a jury

Learning Objective 10.3:Explain the organization of the federal court system

-Constitutional Courts: federal courts created by the Constitution or Congress pursuant to its authority in Article III

  • All judges of the Constitutional Courts are nominated by the president (check by the executive branch)

- Legislative Courts: courts established by Congress for specialized purposes, such as the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims

  • judges appointed by president

  • preside over cases for special purposes

-U.S. district courts were created by Congress after the passing of the Judiciary Act of 1789

  • federal trial courts (94- every state has at least one)

  • must fall into one of three categories

-Involve the federal government as a party

-Present a federal question based on a claim under the U.S. Constitution, a treaty with another nation, or a federal statute

-Involve civil suits in which citizens are from different states, and the amount of money at issue is more than $75,000

  • all have a federal attorney nominated by the president and confirmed by the Congress (checks by the Executive and Legislative branches)

-The losing party in a federal district court can file an appeal to the Court of Appeals (13)

  • supervised by a chief judge and divided into three-judge panels

  • no original jurisdiction (have appellate)

  • have jurisdiction over appeals from criminal and civil cases and appeals from administrative agencies

  • instead of listening to new testimonies, the court hears briefs: a document containing the legal written arguments in a case filed with a court by a party prior to a hearing or trial

-The Supreme Court sets precedent: a prior judicial decision that serves as a rule for settling subsequent cases of a similar nature

  • this reliance on precedence is used to establish stare decisis: a reliance on past decisions or precedence to formulate decisions in new cases

  • acts a s a final interpreter of the Constitution

  • ensures uniformity in the interpretation of national laws and the Constitution, resolves conflict among the states, and maintains the supremacy of national law

Learning Objective 10.4: Outline the criteria and process used to select federal court judges

-The president of the U.S. nominates judges and the Senate must confirm the appointment (Checks by the Executive and Legislative Systems)

-Presidents will appoint judges that share the same policy goals

  • Sometimes, presidents will use senatorial courtesy: process by which presidents generally defer selection of district court judges to the choice of senators of their own party who represent the state where the vacancy occurs

-Most federal judges have prior judicial experience

  • Historically, white males have dominated the court system, but lately, the president has tried to nominate a higher number of minority and women justices

-Presidents will appoint justices to the Court based on the following criteria:

  • competence: judicial, legal, or governmental experience

  • ideology or policy preferences: similar political goals

  • rewards: those who have aided the president on the past and will continue to while in office

  • pursuit of political support: to gain support from a certain group of people (Regan appealing to women by promising to nominate the first woman Supreme Court justice)

  • religion: diversifying the bench (appeal to certain voters)

  • race and gender: diversifying the bench (appeal to certain voters)

-The Senate has to approve all nominees to the federal courts (check on the Executive branch), and usually does so through the Senate Judiciary Committee (example of a standing committee)

-The process of choosing and approving nominees has three main steps

  • Investigation

-the president narrows the list of candidates for office with the criteria stated above

-background checks of the candidates occur (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

-names are sent to AMerican Bar Association (ABA) where rating will occur based on criteria

-nomination is made and the Senate begins its own investigation

  • Lobbying by interest groups

-interest groups will use media to influence the public view on certain candidates

  • The Senate Committee hearings and Senate vote’

-the hearings to discuss appointments are usually closed to the public

-Senators ask candidates questions

-The Senate Committee will make a recommendation on how to vote to the body of the Senate

-Voting decides if an appointment is confirmed or denied (check on executive branch)

-Sometimes the president appoints a candidate who he believes with support his policy, and things do not turn out

  • Ex: conservative Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed a judge who followed liberal policies

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Learning Objective 10.5: Evaluate the Supreme Court’s process for accepting, hearing, and deciding cases

-The Judiciary Branch is the least known partition of the government

-Now, the Supreme Court hears 100x more cases than it did when it was created (8,150 compared to 87)

-The cases heard in the Supreme Court are determined by the public issues of the time

  • Ex: in the 1950’s and 1960’s most cases involved issues with the Bill of Rights

-The Supreme Court has both original and appellate jurisdiction

-writ of certiorari: a request for the Supreme Court to order up the records from a lower course to review the case (needed for Court to exercise appellate jurisdiction)

  • all petitions to the Supreme Court must follow this criteria:

-the case must come from a U.S. court of appeals, a special three-judge court of military appeals, a district court, or a state court of last resort

-the case must involve a federal question

  • The Court has the power to refuse to hear a case if these requirements are not met

  • The Court can decide to hear a case through the Rule of Four: at least four justices of the Supreme Court vote to consider a case (similar to the Senate where a minority vote is protected)

-Each Supreme Court justice selects clerks to assist them in running personal errands

-Clerks perform a variety of tasks such as:

  • searching for arcans facts

  • playing tennis with justices

  • taking walks with justices

  • researching material

  • reading and summarizing cases

  • helping justices write opinions

-Clerks have a close and confidential relationship with their justice

-The Supreme Court will usually decide to hear a case when:

  • The federal government is the party asking for review

  • The case involves conflict among the courts of appeals

  • The case presents a civil rights or civil liberties issue

  • The case involves the ideological or policy preference of the judges

  • The case has significant social or political interest

-Supreme Court cases are often very long and complicated, but they always contain the following activities

  • Oral arguments

-justices will hear oral arguments from April to mid-June and from Monday through Wednesday

-Oral arguments can come from the Solicitor General or immediate parties

-all attorneys are given 30 minutes to present their case

-the arguments given by attorneys give justices extra information about the case

  • The Conference and the Vote

-the justices meet in a closed conference twice a week once the oral arguments begin

-the chief justice will preside over the meeting where the other justices will talk the case over and give their opinions

  • Writing opinions

-an opinion is written after the Court has reached a decision

-if the chief justice is in the majority, then he will choose the judge who writes the opinion

-if the chief justice is in the minority, the most senior member of the majority will write the opinion

-the legal reasoning of an opinion will become precedent on which future cases will be decided (stare decisis)

-negotiating process involves caucusing

-concurring opinions may be filed if a justice agreed with the outcome of a case but not the legal reasoning

-dissenting opinions are filed by justices that do not agree with the outcome of a case

Learning Objective 10.6: Analyze the factors that influence judicial decision making

-The activism/restraint debate is one of the main issues surrounding judicial decisions

-Judicial restraint: the belief that courts should allow the decisions of other branches of government to stand, even when they offend a judge’s own principles

  • advocates for judicial restraint: the judiciary branch is the least democratic part of the government, so the other branches should handle decisions as much as possible for the good of the people

  • advocates are usually strict constructionists: interpret the Constitution as it was written and intended by the Framers

-Judicial activism: the belief that judges should use their power broadly to further justice

  • believe that it if the Judicial branch’s job to correct injustices made by the other branches

  • Ex: ruling on Brown v. Board of Education

-Political scientists have come up with a few different models in an attempt to explain how judges vote on cases

  • behavioral characteristics

-believe that background differences such as childhood experiences, religious values, education, earlier political and legal careers, and political party loyalties influence how a judge decides to vote on a case

  • The attitudinal model

-states that Supreme Court justices decide cases based on personal preference on issues of public policy

  • The strategic model

-argues that justices way legal doctrine and their own policy beliefs with concerns about how other internal and external variables will affect and be affected by their decision

-Public opinion will act as a check on the judicial system as an energizing factor (making the court active or inactive based on public issues)

  • Ex: John Marshall’s active approach during the early years of the republic

-The Supreme Court in return affects public opinion


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Learning Objective 10.7: Assess the role of the Supreme Court in the policy-making process

-Court decisions influence American politics and policy

-The Supreme Court exercised a check on the executive branch with its decision that the action of denying habeas corpus to prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay was unconstitutional

-The Supreme Court’s power is continuously growing as they see more and more cases

  • lower courts have grown as well with the judiciary branch being more active in policy making

-Courts rely on other forces of government to carry out their decisions

  • Judicial implementation: how and whether judicial decisions are translated into actual public policies affecting more than the immediate parties to a lawsuit

  • how well a decision is implemented depends on how popular it is within the other branches of government (check on the judicial system)

  • The implementing population consists of those people responsible for carrying out a decision (lawyers, judges, public officials, etc.)

  • The consumer population consists of those people who might be directly influenced by a decision (students and parents)

-For effective implementation, there are several requirements including:

  • The public must understand the decision

  • The public follow the policy (Ex: not all people followed the ruling of Brown v. The Board of Education at first due to the initial anger over the decision)

  • The public be aware of the rights that a decision grants or denies