American Government and Politics Today

The Courts
Learning Objectives
 Explain such major concepts of the American
legal system, such as the common law
tradition, precedent, jurisdiction, judicial review,
and stare decisis.
 Identify the sources of American Law.
Learning Objectives
 Outline the federal court system and explain
the major function of each court:
 District
 U.S. Court of Appeals, and the
 U.S. Supreme Court.
 Describe and evaluate the need for secret
courts created to combat terrorism.
Learning Objectives
 Identify the parties to lawsuits (plaintiff,
defendant) and evaluate the role interest
groups may play in filing amicus curiae briefs.
 Explain the advantage to filing a class-action
suit to advancing the agenda of interest groups.
 Explain the factors that determine which cases
reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
Learning Objectives
 Summarize the presidential appointment
process for all levels of federal courts including
nominating candidates, their common
qualifications, the role of senatorial courtesy,
and how ideology has played an important role
in the politics of appointments.
Learning Objectives
 Identify and explain the different types of
opinions that are delivered by justices of the
Supreme Court.
 Unanimous
 Majority opinion
 Concurring opinion
 Dissenting opinion
 Explain the special role played by the Chief
Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Learning Objectives
 Define activist and restraintist philosophies, and
strict versus broad construction.
 Describe the Roberts Court, including its
ideology and the types of cases it chooses to
 Explain the policymaking function of the courts.
 Describe how the power of the courts is limited
and checked.
Sources of American Law
 Constitutions
 Statutes and Administrative Regulations
 Case Law
The Federal Court System
 In both the state and federal court systems,
before a case can be brought before a court,
two requirements must be met:
 Jurisdiction
(court’s authority to hear a case)
 Standing to sue (justification for bringing suit)
The Federal Court System
The Federal Court System
 Types of Federal Courts
 District Courts
 U.S. Courts of Appeals
 U.S. Supreme Court
 Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act (FISA)
 Alien “Removal Courts”
The Federal Court System
The Federal Court System
The Supreme Court at Work
 Which Cases Reach the Supreme Court?
 Factors
that bear on Court’s decision to take a
 Legal
question was decided differently by lower courts
and needs resolution by the highest court.
 When a lower court’s decision conflicts with an existing
Supreme Court ruling.
 When the issue could have significance beyond the
parties to the dispute.
 Solicitor general is pressuring the Court to take a case.
The Supreme Court at Work
 Deciding Cases:
 When
four of the Supreme Court justices decide
to take a case, a writ of certiorari is issued to call
up the records of the case for review.
 Attorneys
 Justices
in the case present oral arguments.
meet privately in conference to decide
the case.
The Supreme Court at Work
Decisions and Opinions:
Opinions contain the Court’s ruling on the issue or
issues presented, the reasons for its decision, and
the rules of law that apply.
 Can affirm lower court’s decision.
 Can reverse lower court’s decision.
 Can remand, or send back, the case to the lower
court for retrial.
The Supreme Court at Work
 Types of Opinions
Unanimous opinion
 Concurring opinion
 Dissenting opinion
The Selection of Federal Judges
 Judicial Appointments
 Federal
District Court Judgeship Nominations
 Federal Courts of Appeals Appointments
 Supreme Court Appointments
 Partisanship and Judicial Appointments
 The Senate’s Role
The Selection of Federal Judges
The Selection of Federal Judges
Policy Making and the Courts
 Judicial Review
 Judicial Activism and Judicial Restraint
 Strict Versus Broad Construction
Policy Making and the Courts
What Checks Our Courts?
 Executive Checks: implementation of decisions
 Legislative Checks:
 Constitutional
 Rewriting Laws
 Public Opinion
 Judicial Traditions and Doctrines
Web Links
 Supreme Court of the United States: decisions
are available here within hours of their release:
 The Oyez Project:
A multimedia archive devoted to the Supreme
Court of the United States and its work:
What If…Supreme Court Justices Had Term
 The Supreme Court justices are not elected
officials, and barring gross misconduct, they
also hold their offices for life.
 Prior to 1970, the average term was 15 years.
What If…Supreme Court Justices Had Term
If terms were limited, then
 There could be reduced rancor surrounding
confirmation hearings.
 The United States would be like other
 Vacancies would occur on a regular basis.
 Retirements would not be politically timed.
You Can Make a Difference: Volunteer in the
All court systems in the United States are overburdened with too many cases and too few
employees to provide needed services.
You can:
 Observe the courts in session to learn about
the system.
 Volunteer with your school’s student legal
services office.
You Can Make a Difference: Volunteer in the
 Volunteer for such positions as helping at the
Information Desk, providing services to jurors,
working in the business office, providing tours
and assisting in the Children's Waiting Rooms.
 Become "volunteer lawyers," helping individuals
in completing forms, applying to the right court,
and dealing with court processes.
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