National Government: The Judicial Branch
Standard(s) of Learning
||The student will demonstrate knowledge of the organization and powers of the national government by
||examining the legislative, executive, and judicial branches;
||analyzing the relationship between the three branches in a system of checks and balances.
||The student will demonstrate knowledge of civil liberties and civil rights by
||examining the Bill of Rights, with emphasis on First Amendment freedoms;
||analyzing due process of law expressed in the 5th and 14th Amendments;
||explaining selective incorporation of the Bill of Rights;
||exploring the balance between individual liberties and the public interest;
||explaining every citizen's right to be treated equally under the law.
Explain that the organization and powers of the judicial branch are derived from the Constitution of the United States of America and federal law.
Describe the organization and jurisdiction of the United States Court System
• Supreme Court
– Nine justices, no jury
– Hears appeals from lower federal courts and highest state court
– Has limited original jurisdiction
• United States Court of Appeals
– Judges, no jury
– Hears appeals from United States district courts and certain other federal courts and commissions
• United States District Court
– Judge and jury
– Tries cases involving federal crimes and federal civil proceedings
– Does not hear appeals
Explain that a constitutional system of checks and balances gives each of the three branches of government ways to limit the powers of the other branches and protects against an abuse of power by any one branch of government.
Describe the checks of the judicial branch:
• Over the legislative branch
– To declare laws unconstitutional
• Over the executive branch
– To declare executive acts unconstitutional
Explain that the United States has a separate court system whose jurisdiction is derived from the Constitution of the United States of America and federal laws.
Explain that Article III of the Constitution of the United States of America and federal laws identify the jurisdiction of the federal courts.
Describe the types of jurisdiction:
• Exclusive jurisdiction—Certain cases, such as bankruptcy and federal crimes, can only be tried in federal courts.
• Concurrent jurisdiction—Congress allows some cases to be tried in either federal or state courts (e.g., cases between citizens of different states).
Describe the jurisdiction of regular federal courts:
• Supreme Court—Appellate and limited original
• U. S. Court of Appeals—Appellate
• U. S. District Courts— Original
Explain that the Supreme Court of the United States is the court of last resort. It hears appeals from state and special courts.
Using the following information, evaluate how the United States Supreme Court gained recognition as an equal branch of government as a result of John Marshall's judicial strategy:
• Prior to the appointment of Chief Justice John Marshall, the Supreme Court had little power.
• In Marbury v. Madison (1803), Chief Justice Marshall and the Supreme Court first declared an act of Congress unconstitutional, thus establishing the power of judicial review.
Describe how the Supreme Court hears cases and makes decisions based on the opinions of the majority.
Steps in deciding cases
• Briefs—Both sides of the case and any interested parties submit written information summarizing their point of view.
• Oral arguments—Lawyers for each side present oral arguments. They are often questioned by the justices regarding their arguments.
• Conference—Following oral arguments, justices meet to discuss the merits of a case. The decision of the court is determined by a majority vote.
• Opinions—Justices are assigned to write the majority and minority opinions of the court. When all opinions have been written and justices have determined which opinion they will support, the decision is announced in public. Justices who disagree with those opinions may write a dissenting opinion
Using the following information, explain how the philosophies of judicial activism and judicial restraint relate to the federal judiciary’s exercise and its authority:
• Supporters of the philosophies of judicial activism and judicial restraint disagree regarding the role of the federal judiciary.
• Judicial activists believe federal courts should use the power of judicial review to solve important societal issues. Since justices are not elected, they can make controversial decisions without fear of losing office.
Those in favor of judicial restraint argue that the Supreme Court should avoid ruling on constitutional issues whenever possible. When action is necessary, it should decide cases in as narrow a manner as possible.
Below is an annotated list of Internet resources for this organizing topic. Copyright restrictions may exist for the material on some Web sites. Please note and abide by any such restrictions.
“Full Text of Supreme Court Decisions Issued between 1937 and 1975.” U.S. Department of Commerce. <http://supcourt.ntis.gov/>. This site allows users to search for cases by name.
“The Great Chief Justice at Home.” The National Park Service. <http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/twhp/lessons/49marshall.htm>. This site provides biographical information on John Marshall, emphasizing his accomplishments within the historical context of his time on the bench.
“How Does Our System of Checks and Balances Protect Our Rights?” The Social Studies Help Center. <http://www.socialstudieshelp.com/Lesson_13_Notes.htm>. This site provides information on the checks and balances within the United States Government system.
Supreme Court of the United States. <http://supremecourt.gov/>. This site provides information on the United States Supreme Court: structure, procedures, and cases.
“United States District Courts.” U.S. Courts. <http://www.uscourts.gov/districtcourts.html>. This site provides information on jurisdiction of District Courts.
“U.S. Courts, The Federal Judiciary.” <http://www.uscourts.gov/links.html>. This site provides links to all U.S. federal courts.
“U.S. Judiciary.” Law Library of Congress. <http://lcweb.loc.gov/law/guide/usjudic.html>. This site provides information on the United States court system.