Criminal Justice History: A Guide to the U.S. Legal System

The dual court system is considered to be one of the most interesting, important and confusing judiciary features in the United States. This simply means that each level of the government—both national and states levels—have a set of courts of its own. Because of this, each state in the country has its own court system; there is one for the federal government and one for the District of Columbia. Depending on the legal matter at hand, it may be handled entirely at the state level, or it may not be touched by the state whatsoever; in those cases, the federal level of the legal system handles the matter. There are also legal matters that may be dealt with at the state and federal level, which makes the resolution more difficult to come to explains criminal defense attorney Diana Aizman.

Before the United States adopted the Constitution, it was governed by the Articles of Confederation. Under this governing agent, most of the national government’s functions were vested in Congress. Legislative and executive powers were not separated in this single-chamber legislature. Because there was no national judiciary, this was considered a weakness of the Articles. In order to strengthen the Articles, a national judiciary was established in 1787 when the delegates came together in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention.

Although the agreement was made, there was still conflict that arose when trying to decide on the exact form the judicial branch should take. The Virginia Plan was the first suggestion, which simply proposed to have smaller federal courts in addition to a Supreme Court. The New Jersey Plan wanted a single federal tribunal and did not want the inferior federal courts as stated in the Virginia Plan. In order to settle the differences in the two Plans, there was a compromise that was put together in the third Article of the Constitution. This Article states that there should be one Supreme Court with the Congress, as well as other inferior courts, may establish and ordain from time to time.

First Supreme Court

The first meeting of the Supreme Court took place in 1790 on February 1. The first session lasted 10 days and was in New York City in the Royal Exchange building. During the 10 days of this session, a clerk was selected, several lawyers were admitted and a seal was chosen. No cases were chosen to be decided on during this time, and no cases were ruled on within the first three years. Fifty cases were decided on during the first 10 years.

Economic regulation was of prime concern in the Court between 1865 and 1937. This was due to the fact that many of the state and national laws became focused on monitoring the activities of various businesses. The more laws that came about, the more cases that came into the Courts to determine the cases constitutionality. Ever since 1937, the Court has had a main focus on civil liberties. The main two concerns were freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

The courts of appeals are extremely important in the United States judicial system. Although this is the case, they receive considerably less media coverage than the Supreme Court. The courts of appeals are often looked at as the last resort for most of the appeals that occur in the federal court system. This is because the Supreme Court only hands down between 80 and 90 cases per year that have full opinions.

Three circuit courts were created by the Judiciary Act of 1789. Each court had a district judge and two Supreme Court justices. This Act also is responsible for establishing the three levels of the federal court system that are in effect currently. From time to time, other federal courts are created, as stated in Article I and Article III of the constitution. Article I courts are legislative courts, and include the Court of Veteran Appeals, the United States Tax Courts and the U.S. Court of Military Appeals. Article III courts are constitutional courts, and include federal district courts, courts of appeals and the Supreme Court.

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