THE JUDICIAL BRANCH
In most modern democracies the executive and legislative branches hold considerable
power, but most grant little policymaking power to the judicial branch. A most important
exception to this general rule is the United States, whose judiciary is truly a coequal
branch with as much power as the other two. And yet our government did not begin with
this almost equal balance of power; the founders almost certainly saw the judiciary as an
important check on the legislative and executive branches, but not as a policymaking
The court system is a cornerstone of our democracy. According to our ideals, judges
make impartial and wise decisions that elected officials find difficult to make.
of Congress, state governors, and the President must always worry about elections and
As a result, they may lose sight of the need to preserve our values, and
they sometimes set hasty or unjust policies.
Under the guidance of Constitutional
principles, the courts serve as watchdogs of the other branches of government.
THE COMMON LAW TRADITION
Although the U.S. judiciary differs in many ways from the British system, the tradition of
English common law is still very important to both.
is a collection of
judge-made laws that developed over centuries and is based on decisions made by
The practice of deciding new cases with reference to former decisions is
The doctrine of
(“let the decision stand) is based on
[precedent, and is a cornerstone of English and American judicial systems.
So, when a
Court overturns a previous court’s decision, it is a major event, because to do so breaks
the strong tradition of
(example, given in class: Cases are able to be amended. Gideon vs. Wainwright - Gideon
robbed a pool hall, he goes to court without a lawyer, he is found guilty and sent to jail –
he writes a note to the supreme court, and states the 6
amendment gives him the right to
a lawyer. The justice looks at it and says they have covered in 1943 (although it is in
1960s)… a different justice takes a look at the case, this is precedence.)
THE JUDICIARY IN THE CONSTITUTION
The Constitution painstakingly defines the structure and
functions of the legislative branch of the government.
clearly, although less thoroughly, addresses the responsibilities
and powers of the President.
However, it treats the judicial
branch almost as an afterthought.
Article III specifically
creates only one court (the Supreme Court), allows judges to