GOV – NOV 11
The Courts – How the Judicial System is Organized, How Justices are Chosen, What they
consider their jobs to be, etc.
History of Judicial System
Articles of Confederation: didn't really have a national judicial system. Constitution
changed this, but only set up a small part of the federal court system and left it to
Congress to set up the rest. Some framers thought that the court system should be large
and broad, others thought it should be small, so compromise was to set up a small one
and leave it to Congress to expand it.
Organization of Courts in the US
Civil vs. Criminal Courts
Basic Court Structures (each state has its own court system, but share a basic structure):
State trial courts are lowest level – everything starts out here, be it a speeding
ticket or a murder. If those decisions are appealed, it goes to a State Intermediate
Appellate Court of Appeals, and then a State Court of Last Resort.
Each state has a civil code, which regulates conduct between citizens (like if you
get into a fender bender with someone, you owe them some compensation); and a
criminal code, which governs conduct between a person and society. So if you
commit a crime like a speeding ticket or a robbery, the case isn't an individual
against you, it's the state against you in court. In the criminal code, it's the state
pursuing recourse against you for a violation of state law, whereas in civil code
it's another citizen seeking recourse against you for an individual wrong.
Politics and the Courts:
State vs. Federal
State courts are pretty politicized – judges run for “office” as a judge. Ordinary
citizens usually don't care or pay attention, but interest groups sometimes come in
and try to get someone thrown out of office or influence it. Example: In Iowa,
judges run for reappointment – have to get 50% of the people to say yes, they
should stay in office (don't have to run against someone else) Usually they get
reappointed. But in Iowa the courts issued a few pro-gay rights decisions, and
several out of state interest groups decided to get involved, and they actually got
three supreme court justices thrown out.,
Federal Courts: all judges are appointed for lifetime service.
Federal courts start off with US District Courts, then up to US Courts of Appeals,
then up to the US Supreme Court (Sup. Ct. doesn't have to take cases, by the way
– if a case gets appealed to them, the vast majority of the time they say they
won't hear the case. Not so in state courts and lower federal courts – those judges
usually have to hear appeals cases).
Circuit Courts – the US is divided into circuits, federal courts where lower court
cases can get appealed to. Supreme Court justices often held judge position in one
of these courts first.