Judiciary of the United States

Vocabulary

adversarial system

process through which two parties present their arguments and evidence (often via a lawyer) in front of a neutral judge or jury

amicus curiae brief

"friend of the court" brief submitted by an outside party presenting information and recommendations on a court case

appellate court

federal or state court that hears challenges to decisions made by a lower court and rules on whether that court applied the law fairly to reach those decisions

checks and balances

governmental system under which the powers of each branch of government are restrained and balanced by those of the other branches to prevent the accumulation of too much power by any one branch

civil court

federal or state court that hears and decides legal disputes between two or more parties

class action lawsuit

civil lawsuit brought by one person or group on behalf of a larger group of people who claim to have been injured by the same party in a similar way

concurrent jurisdiction

situation arising when both state and federal courts have the authority to hear and decide a case

concurring opinion

written explanation of why a justice agrees with the majority opinion but not the primary legal rationale behind it

confirmation hearing

committee session in which a presidential nominee and others are questioned in order to investigate the nominee's qualifications and background prior to confirmation

decision

action of a majority of justices to find in favor of one party over another

dissenting opinion

written explanation of why a justice does not agree with the majority opinion

district court

federal court where a criminal or civil case most likely begins

John Marshall

chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1801–35)

judicial activism

judicial philosophy reflecting a willingness to declare laws and government actions unconstitutional or to overturn precedent set by earlier courts' decisions

judicial restraint

judicial philosophy reflecting a reluctance to declare laws and government actions unconstitutional or to overturn precedent set by earlier courts' decisions

judicial review

right of a court to review the laws and actions of the other two branches

Judiciary Act of 1789

law that created the U.S. Supreme Court and the lower federal court system

jurisdiction

court's authority to hear and decide a case

majority opinion

written explanation of a court decision stating the legal principles on which it is based

Marbury v. Madison

1803 Supreme Court ruling that established the principle of judicial review

original intent

how a judge believes the framers of the Constitution or the authors of an amendment or of a law meant for the document to be read

original jurisdiction

court's authority to hear and decide a case first, before any other court

originalism

judicial philosophy focused on using original intent to interpret and apply the law

precedent

decision in an earlier case on similar points of law

stare decisis

"let the decision stand"; the legal principle that a question decided in court one way should be decided in the same way in all cases involving the same issue

textualism

judicial philosophy that focuses narrowly on a reading of the text of the law at issue and does not try to determine the lawmakers' thinking

writ of certiorari

formal order from a higher to a lower court asking for a case record to be sent for review

writ of mandamus

formal order to a government official to fulfill the duties of the official's office