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1UCLA Department of Political Science Fall 2007 PS 40 Introduction to American Politics Prof. Thomas Schwartz HUNK 8 THE JUDICIAL BRANCH The federal court system is an administrative department run by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His administrative role is quite a big one, akin to that of a cabinet secretary. Our system reflects a strong English legal legacy. (I say English, not British, because Scotland has different legal system.) The federal government and all states except Louisiana have legal systems copied from England. That it should be so was taken for granted by the Founders. Among the qualities copied are the following: •An independent judiciary. This is enhanced in the federal system by life tenure for judges. •Respect for individual rights. •Common Law. After the Norman Conquest of England, judges applied common sense to property and contract disputes. Their opinions circulated (given that the judges were monks who traveled), and as a result a large body of case law accumulated. So common lawis judge-made law. As such it is driven by precedent. When a new case comes before a judge, it is said that the judge simply applies existing precedent, that the judge “discovers” the existing law. However, it’s also clear that judges do not just discover and apply the law but also shape it, albeit very gradually.
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