The Judicial Branch

The Judicial Branch
The Constitution and the
National Judiciary
• Article III of the Constitution establishes:
– a Supreme Court in which the judicial power of the United States
is vested
– life tenure or 'good behaviour' for judges
– judges receive compensation that cannot be diminished during
their service
– such inferior courts as Congress may choose to establish
– the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court
• The intent of Article III was to remedy the failings of the
Articles of Confederation which left judicial matters to the
Judicial Review
• Judicial review is the power
of a court to decide if a law or
other legal issue disregards the
Constitution, and overturn it.
• This power is not mentioned
in the Constitution.
• Judicial review was
established by the Marshall
Court in Marbury v. Madison
• Marbury's long-term effect has
been to allow the Court to
have the final say in what the
Constitution means.
The American Legal System
• The American legal system is a dual system:
– state courts--actually 50 different 'systems'
– federal courts
• Both systems have three tiers:
– Trial courts (a.k.a. District Courts): litigation begins and
courts hear the facts of the case at hand (original jurisdiction)
• One judge, witnesses, presentation of evidence, jury or judge
decides the case
– Appellate courts (a.k.a. Circuit Courts): decide questions of
law, not fact; reviews decisions of lower courts (appellate
• Several judges (3-9), no witnesses (lawyers argue), no evidence
– Court of Final Appeals: Supreme Courts
What “circuit” is Michigan in?
Who are Federal Judges?
Typically federal judges
– held previous political
office such as prosecutor
or state court judge
– political experience such
as running a campaign
– prior judicial experience
– traditionally been mostly
white males
– been lawyers
Federal Selection Process
Dept. of
Interest Groups
Jud. Comm.
The U.S. Supreme Court
• Highest court in the land
• 9 Justices (all but 4 have been white men)
– Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas: African
American; Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader
Ginsburg: women
• Chief Justice: William Rehnquist
• Selects about 100 of the over 7000 cases that are
submitted to it each year: chooses cases that
involve signification Constitutional questions and
are important to the entire country
Supreme Court Decisions
• Majority vote required to determine
outcome of case
• Write opinions
– Majority opinion: states courts decision
– Dissenting opinion: states reasons why judge(s)
disagreed with majority opinion
– Concurring opinion: states reasons why a judge agrees
with the decision but for a different reason
• Courts do not have the power to implement
their decisions. The executive branch must
enforce the Court’s decisions.
How Supreme Court
Decisions are Made
Case on the Docket
Approx 95
Justices Conference
Cases discussed
Votes taken
Opinion Assigned
Briefs and Amicus
Briefs submitted
Opinions Drafted
and Circulated
Oral Argument
Opinions Announced
How the Justices Vote
Legal Factors
• Judicial Philosophy
– Judicial Restraint - advocates minimalist roles for judges
– Judicial Activism - feels that judges should use the law to promote
justice, equality, and personal liberty.
• Precedent
– Prior judicial decisions serve as a rule for settling later cases of a
similar nature.
– Precedents can change over time
• Ex. Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown vs. Board of Education
Plessy vs. Ferguson
Brown vs. Bd. of Ed.
How the Justices Vote
Extra-Legal Factors
• Behavioral Characteristics
– The personal experiences of the justices affect how they vote.
Early poverty, job experience, friends and relatives all affect
how decisions are made.
• Ideology
– Ideological beliefs influence justices' voting patterns.
• The Attitudinal Model
– A justice's attitudes affect voting behavior.
• Public Opinion
– Justices watch TV, read newspapers, and go to the store like
everyone else. They are not insulated from public opinion and
are probably swayed by it some of the time.
Important Civil and Criminal
Law Terminology
• Criminal Law – Laws that
regulate public conduct and
set out duties owed to society
– Criminal Case: Court
determines whether person
accused of breaking law is
guilty or innocent
– Prosecution (government) vs.
– Standard of Proof: Guilt
beyond a reasonable doubt
(must not have any doubt that
defendant committed crime)
• Civil Law – Laws that
regulate relationship
between individuals/groups
of individuals
– Civil Case: Court settles a
disagreement over issues
such as contracts, divorce,
– Plaintiff (individual bringing
complaint) vs. defendant
– Standard of Proof:
Preponderance of evidence
(more likely than not the
plaintiff’s version of case is
Which type of case has a higher
standard of proof?