Historical Development of the U.S Court Systems

When the English were colonizing North America, they brought with them their laws. Being from the British Common Law system, the settlers understood how that system worked, so they modeled their own government using Common Law. In the 18th century, when the Union was formed and the colonies became states, they kept their Common Law governments. However, the Articles of Confederation set forth to establish one supreme court, being the federal court. Article III of the U. S.

Constitution states: ‘The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. ‘ As a result of the Constitution and the forming of the Federal Court, the powers were divided between the state and central government. There are fifty-one separate systems of courts, one for each state and another for the federal government. Hence the term “dual court system”. The federal court system includes: the U. S. Supreme Court; the U. S. ourts of appeal; the U. S. district court; and courts of special jurisdiction. The U. S. Supreme Court, established in 1789, is the highest judicial body and final court of appeal in the United States. Its nine members include one chief justice and eight associate justices who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The Supreme Court is responsible for explaining the U. S. Constitution and making sure that federal and state laws comply with its articles and amendments. It is based in the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D. C.

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In addition to the nine members, there are also court officers to assist the court in its performance. The other members are; Counselor to the Chief Justice, the Clerk, the Librarian, the Marshal, the Reporter of Decisions, the Court Counsel, the Curator, the Director of Information Technology, and the Public Information Officer. The Chief Justice appoints the Counselor. This person is not an officer of the Court, but serves as the Chief Justice’s personal aide. The Clerk, the Reporter of Decisions, the Librarian, and the Marshal are all appointed by the Court.

The Clerk is responsible for overseeing filings with the Court and maintaining its records. The Reporter of Decisions is “the official charged with editing and publishing the Court’s opinions both when announced and when they are published in permanent bound volumes of the United States Reports. ” (Wikipedia) The Public Information Officer, promotes media inquiries, informs the public of community outreach events, oversees the publication of the circuit’s annual report and other publications, and manages various sponsored web sites.

They have no part in case information or involvement with state matters. (United States Courts for Ninth District) The Court Library was officially created in 1935 with the opening of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D. C. Before this time, “the Justices used their personal collections, the collections of the Library of Congress and, by the mid-nineteenth century, a private Conference Room collection. The position of Librarian began in 1887 as part of the Office of the Marshal, to maintain this collection and those in chambers.

With the increased library functions in the new building, the Librarian position became the Court’s fourth statutory officer in 1948. ” (Supreme Court Historical Society) The Marshal calls the Court to order, maintains order in the Courtroom, audio tapes portions of the argument and times the oral presentations so that the appointed lawyers do not exceed their one-half hour limits. The U. S State appellate courts or Courts of appeal consist, of an intermediate appellate court, and a high-level appellate court generally knows as the State Supreme court.

High-level appellate courts are referred to as courts of last resort, indicating that a defendant can go no further with an appeal within the state court system once the high court rules on a case. U. S Courts of appeal do not decide “guilt”or“fault”, listen to witnesses, do not have a jury, and do not attempt to “find out the facts. They do however, see if there were legal issues made and review the courts records. They also listen to both lawyers working on the case. All states have supreme courts, although only 39 have intermediate appellate courts”. Schmalleger,2009) The United States district courts are the trial courts of the federal court system. The district courts have jurisdiction over every category of federal cases ranging from civil cases to criminal cases. There are 94 federal judicial districts, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The Virgin Islands; Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands are three U. S. territories that have district courts that hear federal cases, including bankruptcy cases.

The Courts of Special Jurisdiction or limited jurisdiction are limited to handling cases such as family matters, bankruptcy, patents, copyrights, probate, traffic, juvenile courts and small claims courts for cases under $5,000. 00. (Understanding Federal and State Courts) The federal courts have power to decide only those cases over which the Constitution gives them authority. These courts are located principally in the larger cities. Only carefully selected types of cases may be heard in the federal courts. All fifty state court systems in the United States operate independently under the constitution and the laws of that particular state.

The names of the courts change to reflect the name of the state, but they all have common fundamental characteristics. No two state court systems are exactly alike. However, there are sufficient commonalities to provide an example of what a typical state court system looks like. “Most state court systems are made up of : (1) two sets of trial courts: (a) trial courts of limited jurisdiction (probate, family, traffic, etc. ) and (b) trial courts of general jurisdiction (main trial-level courts; intermediate appellate courts (in many, but not all, states); and (3) the highest state courts (called by various names).

Unlike federal judges, most state court judges are not appointed for life but are either elected or appointed (or a combination of both) for a certain number of years. ” (Administrative Office of the U. S. Courts) The relationship between the dual court systems is that they work together if the “crimes are punishable under both federal or state law; federal constitutional issues; certain civil rights claims; “class action” cases; environmental regulation; or certain disputes involving federal law. (Federal Court Systems in the United States)


A Brief Overview of the Supreme Court. (2012). Retrieved from http://www. supremecourt. gov/about/briefoverview. aspx District Courts. (2012). Retrieved from http://www. uscourts. gov/FederalCourts/UnderstandingtheFederalCourts/DistrictCourts. aspx Dual Court System. (2012). Retrieved from http://faculty. ucc. edu/egh-damerow/us_dual_court_system. htm Federal Court Systems in the United States. (2012). Retrieved from http://www. azd. uscourts. gov/azd/courtinfo. sf/court/files/$file/fedcrtinfo. pdf History of the Federal Judiciary. (2012). Retrieved from http:// http://www. fjc. gov/history/home. nsf/page/courts_of_appeals. html History and Organization of State Judicial System. (2008). Retrieved from http:// http://www. america. gov/st/usg-english/2008/May/20080522211311eaifas0. 5917169. html Schmalleger, F. (2009). Criminal Justice Today. An Introductory Text for the 21st Century, (10th ed. ). : Pearson Education. The Supreme Court of the United States. (2012).

Retrieved from http:// http://www. history. com/topics/supreme-court Supreme Court Historical Society. (2012) Retrieved from http://www. supremecourthistory. org/how-the-court-works/how-the-court-work/library-support/ Understanding Federal and State Courts. (2012). Retrieved from http://www. uscourts. gov/EducationalResources/FederalCourtBasics/CourtStructure/UnderstandingFederalAndStateCourts. aspx United States Courts for the Ninth District. (2012). Retrieved from http://www. ca9. uscourts. gov/content/view. php? pk_id=0000000113

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