The judicial branch
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The Judicial Branch. Equal Justice Under The Law. All people are created equal…thus, our judicial system protects citizens under a set of laws/rules Laws define OUR rights and freedoms. Why do we have laws?. Imagine a society without rules…

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The Judicial Branch

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The judicial branch

The Judicial Branch

Equal justice under the law

Equal Justice Under The Law

  • All people are created equal…thus, our judicial system protects citizens under a set of laws/rules

  • Laws define OUR rights and freedoms

Why do we have laws

Why do we have laws?

  • Imagine a society without rules…

  • Laws promote the common good, protect you physically and personally, protect your rights, and set limits on behavior

  • Questions as to where our rights end due to infringing on others

    • Freedom to play music v. Neighbor’s right to enjoy peaceful surroundings

Civil v criminal law

Civil v. Criminal Law

Civil Law

Criminal Law

  • Disputes between people

  • Judge and/or jury listen to arguments of both sides (facts of the case)

  • Settles personal issues

  • Defines crimes

    • Behaviors that are illegal because society finds it to be harmful

  • Outlines trial/punishment

  • Protect society as a whole


Sources of the law

Sources of the Law

  • Principles of Laws are set forth in the Constitution

  • Four principal types of law:

    • Statutory

    • Common

    • Administrative

    • Constitutional

  • Constitutional Law is the supreme law of the land

Statutory law

Statutory Law

  • Laws passed by lawmaking bodies are known as statutes

    • Can be passed by Congress, state, or local gov’t

  • Most criminal laws and many civil laws fall into this category

  • Usually represent the majority rule, so they can change over time through the adoption of a new law


Common law

Common Law

  • We cannot have a statute for every type of wrongdoing in our society…just imagine how long that list of laws would be

    • Thus, courts often need to make decisions based off common sense, traditions, and past decisions…this practice is known as common law

  • Precedent: Earlier Decision

    • Often, judges will use precedent to help them make decisions in court cases

    • Over time, the ruling becomes a customary law (common law)


Administrative law

Administrative Law

  • Administrative laws are created by government agencies/commissions and not official legislatures

  • Many of these laws affect our daily lives, much like statutory laws, since the agencies are overseeing some aspect of our society


Constitutional law

Constitutional Law


  • Based on the Constitution and how the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution

    • Example: 6th Amendment’s Right to “assistance of counsel” for their defense and the SC interpretation that states must give free legal aid to those unable to afford a lawyer (Gideon v. Wainwright)


The role of courts

The Role of Courts

  • Cases can be people v. people; people v. government; government v. government

  • In a criminal case, it is society v. individual

    • Society represented by attorney for government (often the District Attorney)

  • In civil dispute, both sides have options of having an attorney or representing themselves

Trial rights

Trial Rights

  • Criminal Case

    • Accused have right to attorney, right to confront accuser, and right to a jury

    • Always presumed to be innocent…job of accuser to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the person is guilty

    • Right to appeal if convicted

      • Appeal: process by which the person asks a higher court to review the result of the trial

      • Higher court may change ruling

      • Appeal process ensures trials are decided fairly

Key definitions

Key Definitions

  • Jurisdiction: Extent or scope of authority that a court has to hear and decide a case that has properly been brought before it

  • Original Jurisdiction: authority to hear and decide a case for the first time

  • Appellate Jurisdiction: authority to review decisions made by lower courts

The federal court system


The federal court system1

The Federal Court System







U s district courts

U.S. District Courts

  • Set up by Congress

  • Federal District Courts

    • Lowest level of US federal courts

    • Trial courts for original jurisdiction (no appeals in district courts)

    • Only federal court in which jury trials are held

    • 94 Total in United States (each state has at least 1)

      • 3 District Courts in PA

District judges

District Judges

  • Federal District Judges are appointed by the President and get approved by Senate

    • Can only be removed via impeachment by Congress

  • Trial judges that oversee civil and criminal trials

    • Apply the law to the facts of the case

    • Can be with or without juries

    • Decides punishment in criminal cases

U s court of appeals

U.S. Court of Appeals

  • Losing party in district court has right to appeal

    • US Court of Appeal reviews decision by lower courts (Appellate Jurisdiction)

  • 12 Judicial Circuits

    • PA in judicial circuit 3, along with New Jersey & Delaware

  • Each court of appeals will have anywhere from 6 to 28 judges

    • Longest serving member under 65 years of age is the senior judge

U s courts of appeals

U.S. Courts of Appeals

Process of court of appeals

Process of Court of Appeals

  • Losing party appeals

  • Panel of at least 3 judges examines records of district court and hears arguments from both sides

  • Do not decide guilt, but rather if the trial was fair and law was properly interpreted

  • Majority vote for decision

  • May be sent back to new trial in district court or uphold the courts decisions

    • This may get appealed again to the Supreme Court

The supreme court

The Supreme Court

  • Highest court of the United States

    • Consists of nine justices, appointed for life

    • Chief Justice is the principal judge on the case

      • Today: John Roberts

    • Reviews cases that have been tried in lower federal courts and in state courts most of the time

    • 3 Exceptions for SC original jurisdiction

      • Diplomats from other countries

      • Cases between states

      • State v. Federal Gov’t cases



  • No Special Requirements

  • Appointed by President, approval by Senate

  • Removal by resignation, death, or impeachment only

Question: Do you think we should set qualifications for Supreme Court Justices? Why or why not?

Judicial review

Judicial Review

  • Power where the Supreme Court can decide whether or not a law is in agreement with the Constitution

  • How did they get this power?

    • John Marshall in the case of Marbury v. Madison

      • Marbury named justice of peace by John Adams

      • Jefferson tells Sec of State Madison to deny appointment

      • Marbury claims Judiciary Act of 1789 gives court power to order Madison to fulfill appointment

      • Marshall says it was not granted by Constitution—declares act of Congress unconstitutional

Pick choose your case

Pick & Choose Your Case…

  • Over 7,000 cases are filed each year to the SC

    • Court takes cases that deal with important constitutional or national questions

    • Minimum of four justices must vote to hear a particular case

    • If refused, lower court decision will remain in effect

    • Remand: return a case to the lower court for a new trial

Hearing a case

Hearing a Case…

  • Supreme Court hears cases by oral arguments

    • Each side given 30 minute limit

    • Justices will then read written arguments and consider arguments said in court

    • Eventually, they will take a vote and a simple majority wins

  • After all of this, the Court will share the opinion

    • Reasoning used to come to that decision

Most common types of opinions

Most Common Types of Opinions

  • Court’s Opinion (Majority Opinion)

    • Written by senior member in majority or Chief Justice (could assign to someone else if they choose)

    • Details reasoning for decision

  • Concurring Opinion

    • Agrees with decision, but not the reasoning behind it

  • Dissenting Opinion

    • Explains why the justices in the majority opinion are wrong

    • Has zero effect on law, but is important if case gets review later

Checks and balances revisited

Checks and Balances Revisited

  • Executive Branch

    • Appoints Federal Judges

  • Legislative Branch

    • Senate confirmation

    • Rewriting of “unconstitutional” laws

    • Amend the Constitution

How the court changes over time

How the Court Changes Over Time

  • Civil Rights and Segregation

    • Scott v. Sandford (1857)

      • Slaves were not US citizens (they were property), thus they cannot sue

    • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

      • “Separate but equal” doctrine

    • Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

      • Segregated schools were not equal—reversed Plessy ruling

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