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Chapter 14. The Federal Judicial System: Applying the Law. John Marshall.

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chapter 14

Chapter 14

The Federal Judicial System: Applying the Law

john marshall
John Marshall

It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each.


Samuel Alito

Bush II 2006

Steven G. Breyer

Clinton 1994

Elena Kagan

Obama 2010

Sonia Sotomayor

Obama 2009

John Roberts

Bush II 2005

Clarence Thomas

Bush I 1991

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Clinton 1993

Antonin Scalia

Reagan 1986

Anthony M. Kennedy

Reagan 1988

the federal judicial system
The Federal Judicial System
  • The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS)
    • Article III
      • SCOTUS
      • Congress creates “inferior” courts
    • Judicial Review
      • The power of SCOTUS to declare another institution’s action unconstitutional
      • Marbury v. Madison- John Marshall
    • Original Jurisdiction- power to hear a case first
      • only a few rare instances
        • Ambassadors, other public ministers & consuls, foreign diplomats
        • When a state is a party
    • Appellate Jurisdiction- power to hear appeals from lower courts
      • cases come from the federal circuit court of appeals or state supreme courts
the federal judicial system1
The Federal Judicial System
  • The Supreme Court of the United States
    • Selecting and Deciding Cases
      • Precedent
        • establishes a rule for settling subsequent cases of a similar nature
        • SCOTUS’ most important function is establishing legal precedents for lower courts to follow
          • stare decisis - adherence to precedent
          • Maintains legal consistency so confusion and uncertainty can be avoided
      • Writ of Certiorari
        • permission allowing a losing party to bring its case before the court
        • gives SCOTUS broad power by allowing it to choose which cases it hears
          • discretionary rule - rule of four
      • Solicitor General
        • Justice Dept. official who represents the US in cases before the Supreme Court
the federal judicial system2
The Federal Judicial System
  • The Supreme Court of the United States
    • Selecting and Deciding Cases (Cont.)
      • Brief
        • legal argument submitted by each party before the oral argument phase
        • amicus curiae – “friend of the court”
          • a brief submitted by an interest which is not a direct party in the case
      • Oral Arguments-
        • 30 minutes for each side
        • Q & A between the justices and lawyers
      • Judicial Conference
        • held in private after oral arguments
        • chief justice speaks first and votes last
the federal judicial system3
The Federal Judicial System
  • The Supreme Court of the United States
    • Issuing Decisions and Opinions
      • Decision
        • the outcome of the case (who won?)
      • Opinion
        • more important than the decision because it informs others of the Court’s interpretation and thereby guides their decisions
        • SCOTUS most important function- establishing legal precedents
      • Majority Opinion
        • The court’s written explanation of its decision
      • Plurality Opinion
        • A majority of justices agree with the decision but not on the legal basis for the decision
      • Concurring Opinion
        • when justices agree with the decision but for different reasons
      • Dissenting Opinion
        • Disagrees with the Court’s decision
the federal judicial system4
The Federal Judicial System
  • Other Federal Courts
    • U.S. District Courts
      • exist in each state
      • courts of original jurisdiction
      • act as trial courts with juries to determine outcomes
        • Only federal courts with juries and a verdict
        • This is where the facts are established
      • make the final decision for most cases
      • Sometimes deviate from SCOTUS precedents
        • Facts are seldom precisely the same
        • Judges may misunderstand the reasoning or position of SCOTUS
        • Ambiguities or unaddressed issues give lower courts flexibility
    • U.S. Courts of Appeals
      • hears appeals from trial courts
    • Special U.S. Courts
      • US Claims Court
      • US Court of International Trade
      • US Court of Military Appeals
federal court system more complicated structure
Federal Court System(more complicated structure)

Original Jurisdiction Cases

Appeals from States

the federal judicial system5
The Federal Judicial System
  • The State Courts
    • the U.S has federal and state courts because of federalism
    • federal Court “myths” overlook these facts
      • About 95% of the nation’s legal cases arise under state law, not federal law
      • nearly all cases originate in state courts are never reviewed by federal courts
      • federal courts must normally accept the facts of a case as determined by a state court
    • State method of selecting judges
      • Competitive Elections
        • Partisan & non-partisan
      • Merit Plan
      • Political Appointment
federal court appointees
Federal Court Appointees
  • The Selection of Supreme Court Justices and Federal Judges
      • Appointed by the president; confirmed by the Senate
      • “term of good behavior”
        • life on the bench
        • can carry out their duties without fear of reprisal by POTUS or Congress
        • enabled presidents to extend their influence on judicial policy long after they have left the White House
  • Supreme Court nominees
    • Presidents nominate those with compatible political philosophy
    • Nominees must be acceptable to others
    • Very few nominees rejected by Senate after nineteenth century
    • Lower-Court Nominees
      • Senatorial Courtesy- senators are consulted on the nomination of lower-level federal judges in their state
federal court appointees1
Federal Court Appointees
  • Justices and Judges as Political Officials
    • The Role of Partisanship
      • the biggest influence in the appointment of federal judges
    • Other Characteristics of Judicial Appointees
      • prior judicial experience
      • Demographics
    • Nearly all recent appointees from appellate courts
    • Most are white men, but diversity has increased in recent decades

Wow, that’s


the nature of judicial decision making
The Nature of Judicial Decision Making
  • The Constraints of the Facts
    • affect which law or laws will apply to the case
    • federal courts can only make rulings in response to actual legal cases
      • Bush vs. Gore (2000)
        • halted a manual recount of “undervotes” in Florida
        • Invoked the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection clause”
  • The Constraints of the Law
    • The Constitution and Its Interpretation
    • Statutes, Administrative Laws, and Their Interpretation
    • Legal Precedents (Previous Rulings) and Their Interpretation
      • maintains legal consistency over time
political influences on judicial decisions
Political Influences on Judicial Decisions
  • Outside Influences on Court Decisions
    • Public Opinion
      • the Court attempts to stay close to public opinion to avoid a grave loss of public support
        • Wants to avoid outright defiance of its decisions
    • Interest Groups
      • lawsuits (ACLU)
      • amicus curiae briefs
    • Congress and the President
      • Strict Constructionism
        • narrow interpretation of the law
      • Loose Constructionism
        • an expansive interpretation
  • Inside Influences: The Justices’ Own Political Beliefs
    • major shifts in SCOTUS’ positions have usually been due to turnover on the court’s membership
judicial power and democratic government
Judicial Power and Democratic Government
  • The Debate over the Proper Role of the Judiciary
    • Originalism theory vs. living constitution theory
      • Originalism: determine and preserve founder’s intent
        • Emphasizes the meaning of the of its words at the time when they were written
          • Justice Antonin Scalia
      • Living constitution theory: adaptable to changing social situations
        • Emphasizes the principles of the Constitution and their application to changing circumstances and needs
          • Justice Steven Bryer
judicial power and democratic government1
Judicial Power and Democratic Government
  • The Debate over the Proper Role of the Judiciary (cont.)
    • The Doctrine of Judicial Restraint
      • Compliance- deferring to elected officials
        • Closely follow the law
        • be highly respectful of precedent
        • defer to judgment of legislatures
    • The Doctrine of Judicial Activism
      • The court sees a compelling need to develop new principles even if it conflicts with precedent or the decisions of elected officials
      • protecting individuals from a “tyranny of the majority”
        • Lawrence vs. Texas (2003)
          • Invalidated a state law against homosexual sodomy
      • Liberals and Conservatives
        • Individual rights vs. States rights/ Business Interests
        • Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007)
      • Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
      • Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission (2010)
        • Lifted restrictions on corporate and union spending in federal election campaigns
judicial power and democratic government2
Judicial Power and Democratic Government
  • The Judiciary’s Proper Role: A Question of Competing Values
    • the issue of legitimacy
      • the proper authority of the judiciary in a system based on majority rule
      • the Court has acted legislatively by defining broad social policies
        • prayer in public school
        • prison reform
        • abortion
    • If Congress disagrees with a SCOTUS ruling it could:
      • rewrite the statute- “Lilly Ledbetter Act”
      • express displeasure with the ruling
      • modify the scope of the court’s appellate jurisdiction
      • amend the Constitution
        • 11th Amendment
        • 16th Amendment