lecture8 - UCLA PS 40 Department of Political Science...

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1 UCLA 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 la w accumulated. So common law is 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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2 We distinguish between two types of case: law and equity . Law vs. Equity In civil cases, a law court provides for remedy after the act, while an equity court enjoins the act (before it is committed). The distinction is based on the British system. In England equity courts, or courts of chancery (the judges are “chancellors”), interpret wills, contracts, and the like. They have no jury. Naturally the court can issue orders, called injunctions, to enforce its decision. In the US the issue of whether or not to preserve this distinction was fiercely debated. But from 1792 on, federal courts could serve both functions. Equity examples: a court issues an injunction to stop protesting at an abortion clinic, or grants “equitable relief” by ordering things like desegregation of schools. There are other important distinctions in the court system: Original vs. Appellate jurisdiction Most courts don’t have both. A court’s original jurisdiction is the set of cases it can try. A court’s appellat e jurisdiction comprises the cases it can hear on appeal . Judge-made law vs. statutory law
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lecture8 - UCLA PS 40 Department of Political Science...

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