PS514 4-1-2010 Court system in the United States Litigation - Any time two or more people go to court to resolve a dispute. Adversarial system - In the US we have lawyers going against lawyers in a courtroom. They are adversaries. They are advocating the position of his or her client. Their job isn?t to be objective and to weight all the facts in the whole. They have to present the best argument on behalf of their client in court. In the adversarial position, the truth will be somewhere in the middle. The correct legal outcome comes from weighing each lawyer?s arguments. The problem also depends on how good your lawyer is. If you have a seasoned attorney and an attorney fresh out of law school, there might be an uneven playing field. Civil Cases - Civil cases can be anything about violation of your rights, labor issues or freedom of travel. Any sort of thing that isn?t criminal in nature. The person with the complaint is the plaintiff, who is suing the defendant. In civil cases the plaintiff is seeking monetary compensation or some sort of rule/law to be changed. They want to be treated differently in some shape or form. Criminal Cases - Criminal cases are different. It is prosecutor and defendant. It is the government prosecuting a criminal. Supreme Court These terms refer to lower courts. In the SC, things get a lot more complicated. Whenever a case reaches the US SC, the names of the litigants change. Petitioner - the person who is seeking review by the US SC. If someone is asking the SC to hear a case, that means they want the case to hear the case because they are unhappy with what happened in a lower level court. Generally, the person bringing the case would have lost in the Court of appeals. Even if they receive a partial win and lost on certain issues. They can still ask the SC to hear their case. Respondent - the person who won at the lower level. They are usually satisfied with the lower court outcome. They don?t want to have the case heard because they won. Occasionally, (older cases) Appellant (person appealing the case and want the lower court decision reversed) and Appellee (person who is responding to the petition) are used. US Legal System Our legal traditions are derived from Great Britain. They have a legal system based on common law. Common law - judge made law. Before legislatures were in existence, if there was any sort of dispute, people would go to court and judges would have to come up with fair ways of resolving a given case. They would have to come up with clear legal rules to help them resolve the dispute. The idea is that this judge is going to rely on the rationale of a preceding court decision to help resolve the dispute. Judges develop legal rules to help solve a series of cases and whenever a similar situation arises, they make the same rulings. Background When our country was first founded, we didn?t have a national court system. The constitution wasn?t drafted quite yet. The only courts were state courts and on very rare occasions we had admiralty court. It wasn?t until the Constitution was adopted that in Article III we established our national court system. Article III only establishes one single court, the US Supreme Court. Everything else was left up to Congress to create by a matter of statute. Congress theoretically could pass a majority vote to get rid of all courts, Obama could sign the bill and the courts would be gone. The only constitutional role of the chief justice of the US is during impeachments. Federalism Federalism - divide governmental power between state governments and the national government. It ensures stability in power and neither would become too powerful. There are two different sets of powers reserved: Enumerated ? generally referred to national government and are spelled out within the constitution. Reserved ? powers that are reserved to the states. States have the ability to legislate on issues considered: Police Powers ? public health, safety, welfare and morals Domestic relations ? marriage, family and divorce. Each state has different requirements about who gets custody of kids, what you need to do to get married or divorced. These are all things that the federal government hasn?t had the authority to legislate on so this is something reserved to the states. There is variation across the country. A good example is same sex marriage. Within each state, they have their own body of state law. They can interpret their state laws differently from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Traditionally the federal government does not have the ability to legislate in these areas. We have laboratories of democracy. Different states play around with different policy options and this diffuses other states within the union. Federal Courts We have a three tiered structure US District Courts Trial Courts that first hears a case. Guilty is not in used in civil cases, the term liable is used. Guilty of a crime is used in criminal cases. It is up to the trial courts to rule if someone is liable. They want to establish facts and evidence of case. Ultimately they want to know who is to blame. There are 94 total courts, and they have original jurisdiction. They have the ability to hear a course for the very first time. US DC has judges and one per case Courts of Appeals Everyone has the right to appeal if you are unhappy with the court?s decision. You can appeal your case to the US court of appeals. They are concerned with making sure the law and procedures were fair. If you lost because of a bad unconstitutional law, the court of appeal is concerned with your case. They have appellate jurisdiction. Courts of Appeals have judges, there are 13 courts and three judges hear the cases. US Supreme Court Has both original and appellate jurisdiction. Some cases SC will hear a case for the very first time. Best example of original jurisdiction at US SC is when one state sues another state. Usually this has to do with boundary disputes, natural resources and things of that nature. A few years back NY v. NJ had a dispute over who owned a section of Ellis Island. 9 Justices sit to hear the cases. They are not judges, but JUSTICES.
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