1. US Court System

US Court System

Playlist: 32 videos: 75 Minutes


Topics: Learning Material

Introduction to the US Court System
This chapter discusses the purpose, design, and members of the state and federal court systems (collectively, “court system”). It explores the authority for the court system under the Constitution; the authority of the court to hear types of disputes; the ability to exercise control over individuals; and the role of administrative, trial, and appellate courts. Understanding these aspects of the court system is foundational to internalizing how laws are developed and enforced against those governed. Recognizing the authority for state and federal administrative and judicial courts, aside from relating valuable civic knowledge, provides an understanding of the systemic approach developed to administer laws as they affect business practice. Further, understanding the structure of the court system allows for strategic decision-making by businesses manages to avoid legal violations and enforce their legal rights. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see US Courts (Intro)

Authority for Creation of Article III Courts
“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.” The US Supreme Court is the only court specifically established by the Constitution. Congress has created several subordinate courts below the Supreme Court, which include the Federal District Courts, Federal Circuit Courts, and numerous ancillary courts that have special jurisdiction. Pursuant to Articles I and II, all members of Article III courts and tribunals are appointed by the President and are confirmed by vote of the Senate. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is the Authority for Article III Courts?

Authority for the Creation of Article I Courts

Article I of the Constitution creates the legislative branch of the Federal Government. Pursuant to the authorization of Article I, Congress has the authority to create inferior courts under the US Supreme Court. Also, Congress has the authority to create legislative courts and a limited ability to delegate law-making authority to other branches. The Supreme Court has ruled that Congress has the latitude to delegate regulatory powers to executive agencies as long as it provides an "intelligible principle" to govern the agency’s exercise of the delegated authority. As such, Congress delegates to the administrative agencies the responsibility for formulating regulations to effectuate and expand upon the statutes passed by Congress. These agencies, under the supervision of the executive branch, establish administrative courts to adjudicate disputes arising pursuant to agency regulations. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is the Authority for Article I Courts?

Authority for the Creation of Article II Courts
Article II of the Constitution establishes the executive branch. It grants the President authority to preside over certain administrative agencies and legislative courts created by Congress. Many administrative agencies create special courts for the adjudication of disputes arising under its jurisdiction or within its regulatory authority. These administrative courts are known as “Article I courts” based upon their authorization. Legislative courts are courts of special jurisdiction created by Congress to hear special matters. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is the authority for courts under Article II?

Authority for the Creation of Article IV Courts
Article IV courts are US Territorial Courts, such as those of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands, established under the Territory Clause of Article IV. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is the authority for Article IV Territorial Courts?

Authority for the Creation of State Courts
Article IV of the US Constitution, along with authority granted under the 10th Amendment, provides for both federal and state governments. While the US Constitution provides the authority for federal courts, a state’s constitutions provides the authority for state courts. Generally state constitutions follow a model that is very similar to that of the US Constitution and allow for judicial, legislative, and administrative courts. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is the authority for State Courts?

Authority of Article III Courts
US Supreme Court - Article III of the Constitution establishes the US Supreme Court as the highest court in the land. It has “original jurisdiction” over certain matters, but serves almost entirely as an appellate court. It provides appellate review of the decisions of the highest state court and decisions from all federal appellate courts. Federal Appellate Courts - These courts serve as the appellate courts for matters decided by judge or jury in the District Court. There are 13 federal appellate courts consisting of 11 enumerated US Circuit Courts of Appeal, the District of Columbia Circuit, and the Federal Circuit. Ancillary Federal Courts - These are Article III federal courts with special authority and vested with specific jurisdiction by Congress. These ancillary courts include: US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review; US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court; US Court of International Trade, US Alien Terrorist Removal Court. District Courts - These are the Article III trial courts for the federal system. There are approximately 94 district courts spread throughout the United States. They do not follow state boundaries; rather, they are positioned within pre-established federal jurisdictions. There are also courts of limited jurisdiction, known as federal magistrate courts, which exist in support of the federal district courts. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see Authority for Article III Courts?

Authority of Article I Courts
Article I federal courts include “legislative courts” & “administrative courts”. Legislative courts are those created by Congress pursuant to authority granted under Article I to handle special jurisdictional matters. Administrative courts are those created to adjudicate disputes of a particular administrative agency. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is the Authority for Article I Administrative Courts?

Authority of Article VI Courts
These are territorial courts specially created to act as the court of general jurisdiction in select federal jurisdictions. These courts have jurisdictions similar to that of a federal district courts; however, they also exercise subject-matter jurisdiction over matters typically reserved to state and local courts in a jurisdiction. These courts are designated to a specific circuit court of appeals for all appeals from the trial court. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is the Authority for Article VI Courts?

Authority of State Courts
State governments establish courts pursuant to Articles III and I of their respective state constitutions. The general structure for the state court system is: Supreme Court, Appellate Court, Superior Court, Intermediate Trial Court, Courts of Limited or Special Jurisdiction, such as Municipal court, Magistrate Court, Probate Court, Family Court, Courts of Equity, Business Courts, etc. All state constitutions allow for administrative state agencies to handle regulatory issues between citizens and the state government. These courts are structurally and operationally similar in nature to federal administrative courts. They fall under the state executive branch’s authority. Examples of state administrative courts include: revenue (taxation), licensing, disability, employment, etc. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What are the types and authority of state courts?

Subject-Matter Jurisdiction
Subject-matter jurisdiction refers to the types of cases (subject matter of the case) that a court can hear (preside over). For example, a superior court in a state may not be able to hear a family, probate, or taxation matter. Similarly, a federal district court may not hear bankruptcy or immigration cases. Subject-matter jurisdiction is particularly important between federal and state courts. In some instances, a state may not be able to hear certain federal matters, and vice versa. For example, money laundering is a federal crime. A state generally cannot hear a case solely involving federal money-laundering charges, as it is falls outside of its subject-matter jurisdiction. On the other hand, assault is a state law crime that is generally outside of the jurisdiction of the Federal District Court. General Subject-Matter Jurisdiction - Some state courts have general subject-matter jurisdiction. This means that the state court has the authority to hear any type of case involving state law. Limited Subject-Matter Jurisdiction - Often state courts divide jurisdiction based on the following: the subject matter of a case, the amount in controversy (or possible penalty for a crime), or where individuals are located or reside. Every state in the US has at least one court of general, subject-matter jurisdiction. Likewise, every state has some form of court with limited subject-matter jurisdiction. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is Subject-Matter Jurisdiction?

Federal Subject-Matter Jurisdiction
As previously discussed, if a federal court has subject-matter jurisdiction over a case, it means that the court may hear the case. There are generally these methods of establishing federal subject-matter jurisdiction in a case: Federal Question Jurisdiction (a federal law at issue); Diversity Jurisdiction (Individuals from Different States with $75K or more in dispute), Litigation between states; and When the US is a Party to the Litigation. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is Federal Court Subject-Matter Jurisdiction?

State Subject Matter Jurisdiction
General subject-matter jurisdiction means the state court may hear any type of case under state law. A state court of general jurisdiction has subject-matter jurisdiction in either of the following situations: an act violates a state criminal law and was committed within the state; a civil dispute involves a state law, or a citizen of the state is a party to a civil action. A state court with limited jurisdiction can only hear cases expressly allowed by the law creating the special court. In most states the state legislature will authorize special courts of limited jurisdiction. These courts are commonly limited by the type of case that it can hear or based upon the dollar amount in controversy. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is State Court Subject-Matter Jurisdiction?

Federal Trial Courts Hear State Law (and Vice Versa)
It depends. A state trial court may hear a case involving a federal question under certain circumstances. There are, however, certain types of cases that a state court cannot hear. Those cases involve a legal situation in which the applicable federal law preempts the entire area of law, such as immigration or bankruptcy. Likewise, a federal trial court may hear a state-law case under certain circumstances. For a federal court to hear a state matter and vice versa, courts must have subject-matter jurisdiction over some legal issue in the case. This generally occurs in two circumstances: 1) the case may involve a mixture of state and federal law, or 2) the the case is a “diversity action”. If a case involving federal law also involves issues of state law, the federal court may adjudicate the state law issues arising in that case. Likewise, a state court hearing issues of state law case may apply federal law to adjudicate a federal law issue. Lastly, a federal court has subject-matter jurisdiction over diversity cases that involve only state law. The federal court will apply the substantive law of the state in which the court is located. The court will apply federal procedural law unless the federal procedural law would likely change the outcome of the case or is “outcome determinative”. In such event, the state procedural law will apply. These rules are known collectively as the “Erie Doctrine”. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see Can a Federal trial courts hear state matters & vice versa?

Federal Appellate Courts Hear State Law (and Vice Versa)
Federal trial court decisions are appealed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals or via special writ to the US Supreme Court. Federal District Courts and Courts of Appeal cannot review decisions from state court cases. Also, state trial or appellate courts can never undertake appellate review of decisions from federal court cases. State trial court decisions are appealed to the state intermediate court of appeals or the state’s supreme court. There is, however, one exception to this rule. The US Supreme court may review decisions of state supreme courts. If the court’s decision appears to conflict with federal law, (such as a statute, treaty, or the US Constitution). US Supreme Court review of state supreme court decisions is most common when the state court upholds a state law that could potentially violate the appellant’s constitutional rights. In such a case, the US Supreme Court may issue a writ of certiorari or accept a request for appeal of the state Supreme Court’s decision by the losing party. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see Can a Federal appellate court hear federal matters & vice versa?

Personal Jurisdiction
A court must have both subject-matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction in every case. While subject-matter jurisdiction regards the court’s authority to hear a certain type of case, personal jurisdiction regards the authority for a court to exercise jurisdiction over an individual. That is, the court must have the legal authority to adjudicate the matter involving the specific individual. Determining whether a court has personal jurisdiction over an individual is different for criminal and civil cases. In a criminal case, a court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant if the defendant committed the alleged criminal conduct within the court’s geographic jurisdiction. A federal court will have personal jurisdiction over a defendant committing any criminal activity within the United States. A state court will have personal jurisdiction over a defendant committing any criminal activity within that state’s borders. Establishing personal jurisdiction in civil cases requires that the court serve the defendant with a summons (or otherwise provide sufficient legal notice of the proceeding), also known as “service of process”. A summons, along with the complaint, gives a defendant legal notice of the allegations against her and directs her to appear before the court on a given date. The legal requirements for serving a summons on someone differ between state and federal courts and are discussed below. In a criminal case, personal jurisdiction is generally not an issue. An individual would assert a defense to the alleged crime rather than assert a lack of personal jurisdiction. In a civil case, however, personal jurisdiction is a hotly debated topic. This is particularly true for businesses that place products into the market for sale. There is a great deal of uncertainty as to what amount of sales activity in a state will subject the business to personal jurisdiction in that state’s courts. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is "Personal Jurisdiction"?

Federal Court Personal Jurisdiction
Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure lays out the process for a federal court establishing personal jurisdiction over a defendant. In summary, the federal court must employ the state law governing personal jurisdiction that is applicable in the state in which the federal court is located. The federal court adopting the state’s procedural law must subject the defendant to the same procedures as if the case were in state court. That is, the federal court will use the state’s procedural rules for serving process on individuals within the state’s borders and may also use the state’s long-arm statute to reach defendants outside of the state’s geographic boundary. As discussed further below, the long-arm statute is a special statute allowing the state to serve a summons on a defendant who is not physically located in the state. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see How to establish Federal Court Personal Jurisdiction?

State Court Personal Jurisdiction
Service of process means providing an individual with a summons (or other authorized method of notification), which gives notice to the individual that she is being called before the court. Personal jurisdiction in state court is governed by the individual state’s law concerning service of process. Service of process must generally take place (the summons must be delivered) while the defendant is physically present within that state. The exception to this rule is that every state has a law, known as a “long-arm statute”, allowing service of process on defendants outside of the state. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see How to establish State Court Personal Jurisdiction?

Long-Arm Statute
A state’s long-arm statute allows service of process on defendants who are physically located outside of the state. A state’s long-arm statute must, however, comply with the 14th Amendment’s Due Process protections. This means that, to pass constitutional muster, a state’s long-arm statute will only allow for service of process on individual outside of the state’s borders if the defendant has sufficient contact with the state to make it reasonable to call her into court there. More precisely, the defendant must have “minimum contacts with the state” sufficient to not offend notions of “fair play and substantial justice”. Examples of situations where a defendant has minimum contacts with the state to allow the state to serve process on a defendant via its long-arm statute include when: she is a resident of the state; she owns property in the state that is the subject of the controversy; or she committed the controversial activity in the state. A business entity is subject to jurisdiction if it carries on business regularly in the state or is organized in or registered to do business in the state. All of these situations involve a sufficient level of contact with the state so that service of process outside of the state’s geographic borders does not offend notions of fair play and substantial justice. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is a "Long-Arm Statute"?

Venue
Venue is the physical location (within the state or federal circuit) where the trial is conducted. A state may contain more than one federal courthouse. Further, states generally have courthouses located in every county, district, or precinct within the state. Once the court establishes subject-matter jurisdiction over the type of case and personal jurisdiction over the defendant, there is a question as to the appropriate venue for the trial or hearing. The appropriate venue is generally the courthouse located in the county, district, or precinct that is most closely related to the matter in controversy. This could be the location where the controversial activity (such as the tort or breach of contract) took place. Alternatively, it could be the locale where the plaintiff or defendant resides. If the parties live in different towns, the place where the activity in controversy occurred or the defendant’s locality is generally the appropriate court. A court may transfer venue to another court in the state if mutually requested by both parties or other equities require a transfer. The reasons for transferring the venue of a trial to another court in the state are to avoid one party having a home-field advantage or one party being subject to a biased jury pool. For example, one party’s home locality may be more likely to find in her favor at trial. Similarly, an individual accused of a horrible crime in a community may be subject to undue bias by prospective jurors. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see Venue

Members of State Judicial Systems
The legal system has a number of diverse contributors. Each plays a unique role is a quite intricate system. The primary players discussed in this chapter include: Judges, Jurors, Private and Public Lawyers (and their staff). These individuals are primary members of the judicial system based upon an individual’s Constitutional rights. The 6th and 7th Amendments grant an individual charged with a crime or subject to a civil penalty of $75 or more the right to trial by a jury of her peers. Articles I and III account for the authority to create a federal court system under the direction of judicial officers or judges. Due Process rights allow an individual the right to representation in a judicial proceeding. The distinct roles played by judges, jurors, and attorneys are discussed individually in separate sections. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see Who are the primary players in the state judicial system?

Types of Judges
There are many types of judges in the legal system. In the Federal System these include: Federal District Court Judges - Judges for the federal trial court. Federal Magistrate Judges - Special federal court judges who hear certain pre-trial and post-trial matters. Federal Circuit Court Judges - Appellate judges on the appellate courts for all of the district courts within its geographic jurisdiction (judicial circuit). US Supreme Court Justices - Justices (judges) who sit on the highest appellate court in the US legal system. Federal Administrative Judges - Judges that preside over the various legislative (administrative) courts established by congress, such as the Tax Court. Specialty Court Judges - Judges that preside over the various special courts designed by Congress under Congress, such as bankruptcy courts and courts-martial. In the State Judicial System, these include: Local Municipal Court Judges - Judges presiding over municipal hearings to enforce city or municipal ordinances. State Magistrate Judges - Specialty court judges who preside over county or small claims courts. They also serve the function of granting warrants, holding probable cause hearings, and presiding over initial appearances. Intermediate State Court Trial Judges - Judges who preside over special trial courts of limited jurisdiction. Superior Court Judges - Judges who preside over trial courts of general jurisdiction. State Appellate Court Judges - Appellate judges who hear appeals from trial courts within its geographic jurisdiction. State Supreme Court Justices - Appellate judges (Justices) sitting in the highest appellate court in the state. State Administrative Judges - Judges presiding over the administrative agencies created by the state legislature. Specialty Court Judges - Judges presiding over special courts designated by the state constitution or legislature. Special court judges may include: family court judges, probate court judges, and masters in equity. Some jurisdictions may have special names, designations, qualifications, etc., for judges presiding over a specific court. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What types of judges are part of the judiciary?

Duties of Trial Judges
The trial judge plays the following roles in the judicial process: Applying Procedural Law - The judge marshals the proceeding and presentation of evidence in accordance with procedural law. In this capacity, she observes and applies constitutional limitations and guarantees of due process of law. This includes applying procedural law, such as the admission of evidence at trial. Applying Substantive Law - The judge identifies applicable rules of law to apply in each case. In essence, the judge tells the jury what law to apply when trying the defendant’s conduct. This is commonly known as instructing or “charging the jury”. Role as Fact-Finder - In some cases, the parties are not entitled to a jury trial. As such, the trial judge may also serve as the finder of fact (the typical role of the jury). A judge often assumes this role in lower-level courts or when the defendant requests trial by judge alone. For example, the judge assumes the role of fact finder in traffic or small claims courts. Applying Equity - Equity is the inherent power of a judge to act in accordance with principles of fairness or justice when the law does not provide an adequate remedy through money damages. Equity allows the judge to order parties to take actions to achieve a fair and just result. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What are the duties of trial judges in the legal system?

Duties of Appellate Judges
The duties of an appellate court judge are distinct from those of a trial judge. Specifically, the appellate court serves as legal reviewer of trial court decisions. It does not generally make determinations about the facts of the case, except in special circumstances (known as “de novo review”); rather, the court reviews the case based on the facts as found by the trial court and present in the trial record. That is, the appellate court accepts the juries findings of fact as true. As an example, if the jury finds that an individual was driving the car that hit the plaintiff, the appellate court must assume that is true. The appellate court judges review the case for legal inadequacy and serve the following functions: Application of the Procedural and Substantive Law; Determining Constitutionality of the Law; Developing the Common Law. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What are the duties of Appellate Judges & Justices?

Appeal to US Circuit Court
The method by which a case arrives before an appellate court varies based upon the type of appellate court. US Circuit Courts of Appeals - The US Courts of Appeal hear cases appealed from the Federal District Courts. Like all appellate courts, the Courts of Appeal review cases to determine: whether the correct law was applied, and whether it was applied correctly, and whether the law, as applied, violates rights provided by the US Constitution. Generally, appeals derive from a request by the losing party at trial. In some cases, however, a party may make an interlocutory appeal, which is an appeal of a single issue before the case has been decided. This is only allowed, however, when the issue is extremely important or would effectively decide the case. The losing party generally requests permission to file an appeal with the Court of Appeals. The court will either grant the request or deny it – making final the decision on the appealed issue. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see US Circuit Court?

Appeal to US Supreme Court
US Supreme Court - The US Supreme Court accepts cases via two primary methods. The first method is the Writ of Certiorari. This is a written demand issued by the court for the case to be transferred to the court for review. Procedurally, 4 of 9 Justices must agree to accept the writ and review the case. The second method is pursuant to appeal by any party to a case. Generally, the court will only accept appeals of issues that have important and broad impact. Further, the issues on appeal generally involve issues of constitutionality. The Supreme Court may use this authority to review decisions by the highest court in any state or by any federal court. As the highest appellate court, decisions by US Supreme Court are final. That is, its decisions cannot be appealed further. Also, its decisions provide precedent for all inferior courts. This means that all lower courts (state and federal) must follow, interpret, and apply the law consistently with the interpretation of the Supreme Court. The court’s interpretation of the law actually becomes part of the law and forms the common law surrounding the statute. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see US Supreme Court?

Appeal from Legislative or Administrative Courts
In general, parties appearing before legislative courts have direct rights of appeal to Article III Courts (District or Circuit Courts). The ability to appeal, however, is not generally immediate. A party wishing to appeal a legislative court’s decision must first appeal to the agency administrator or to an internal administrative board within the agency. Once this is complete, if this does not remedy the issue, the parties may appeal to the Federal District Court. The District Court will act as an appellate court for the matter in question. In certain cases, the parties may appeal directly to the Circuit Court and skip review by the District Court. The important thing to remember is that parties appearing before Article I courts must still have the ability to appeal the court’s decision to an Article III court. Otherwise, cutting off access to an Article III court may be unconstitutional as a violation of due process rights. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see Appeals from Legislative and Administrative Courts

Appeals in State Courts
The appellate procedure in state court is similar to that of the federal system. Decisions from the trial court go to the intermediate court of appeals, unless the state does not have an intermediate court of appeals or state statute requires appeal directly to the state supreme court. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see Appeals in the state court system?

What do Jurors Do?
The 6th and 7th Amendments to the Constitution guarantee the right to trial by jury in criminal and civil cases, with certain exceptions. The right to trial by a jury varies between criminal and civil cases. Civil Cases - The 6th and 7th Amendments do not guarantee a right to a jury trial in every trial. In civil cases, the right to a jury trial is linked to a dollar amount in controversy between the parties. States may have courts of special jurisdiction that have an amount-in controversy limit and do not allow for a jury trial. If the parties want a jury trial, however, either party has the option of filing the case in a superior court of general jurisdiction, where a jury trial is an option. In this way, each party’s access to a jury trial is not limited. Parties may also enter into contracts that forgo the right to a jury trial in the event of dispute. Criminal Cases - Due process requires that criminal cases in which a party faces potential imprisonment afford her a jury trial. Very minor criminal infractions that involve a fine and no potential for incarceration often do not allow for a jury trial. For example, a citation for speeding may not entitle a party to a jury trial. In criminal cases the defendant may elect to forgo a jury trial and have the judge act as fact finder. In civil cases, if the right to jury trial exists, both parties must consent to forgo the right to a jury trial. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What is the role of "jurors" in the judicial system?

Number of Jurors Required
The number of jurors and the number of juror votes required for a finding of guilt or civil liability vary depending upon the type of case (criminal or civil) and the court (state or federal). The rules vary based upon: The Number of Jurors; Whether Unanimous or Majority Vote is Required; and whether the Jury will Make Findings of Fact. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What number of jurors and juror votes are required for guilt or liability?

What Do Attorneys Do?
Areas of Practice - There are dozens of areas of law practice that are largely, if not completely, separate and unrelated. Very few attorneys are experts in more than a couple of legal areas. Below are some common areas of legal practice: Criminal Law, Civil Action (Tort Lawyers), Insurance Litigation, Secured Transactions, Administrative law, Contract law, Consumer Law, International shipping and trade, Immigration law, Intellectual Property law, Antitrust law, Securities law, Banking and Finance Law, Corporate Governments, Environmental law, Land and Property, Labor and Employment, Social Security & Disability, Elder Law, Estate Planning, Worker’s Compensation, Family law, Human Rights, Election law, Sports law, etc. Duties to Clients - Attorneys are counselors, advocates, and public servants. More specifically, they are fiduciaries and advocates for their clients’ interests and officers of the court. The attorney’s oath of office subjects the attorney to a professional code of ethics that governs all of her professional practice activities. The attorney is generally trained to navigate the legal system. This may involve working within the courtroom. Below are some universal truths about lawyers and those who practice in the courtroom. Fiduciaries - Attorneys have a duty of trust, confidentiality, and loyalty to their client. This means that, absent certain exceptions, an attorney cannot disclose confidences related to her by a client. This relationship requires a high degree of professional and ethical conduct. Lawyers are subject to sanction (or even disbarment) for failure to live up to these high ethical standards. Court Representation - Individuals may represent themselves or hire a licensed attorney to counsel and represent them before the court. Attorneys must be licensed by and admitted to a court’s bar to represent clients before that body. Officers of the Court - Attorneys are officers of the court and are required to seek justice and to try cases on the merits only. While attorneys represent their clients, they have ethical obligations to the court to promote and seek justice. The system is not designed to be a battle of wits, but rather a presentation of evidence for a just decision. Not all attorneys practice law in a courtroom; however, these standards apply equally to attorneys who provide legal services outside of the courtroom. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see What do Attorneys do?

Other Members of Judicial System
The court system can be large and complicated. To run properly, it requires a number of individuals to carry out specific functions. Some of the primary actors are as follows: Process Servers; Clerks of Court; Court Reporter; Bailiff; Paralegals & Law Clerks; Staff Attorneys; Prosecutors & Public Defendants; Law Professors; Law Journals; Bar Associations. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see Who are the other players in the judicial system?

Judicial Restraint vs Judicial Activism
As previously discussed, appellate courts have the power of judicial review. This includes the power to review laws passed by the legislative body or actions by the executive and to declare them to be unconstitutional and void. Two primary views exist regarding the role of the judiciary in executing its authority: Judicial Restraint - Proponents of judicial restraint believe that the judiciary’s power of review should not be used except in unusual cases. They specifically believe that review of laws that has the effect of expanding or limiting the understanding of constitutional rights are too important to be decided by courts unless absolutely necessary. As such, any case that requires analysis of and interpretation as to the extent of rights afforded under the Constitution are to be avoided if there is another legal basis for a decision. Proponents of judicial restraint also believe that litigation is not the appropriate technique for bringing about social, political, and economic change. That is, social, political, and economic change should only result from the passage of laws by the legislative branch of the federal or state government. Judicial Activism - Proponents of judicial activism support the use of the judiciary’s power of review. They believe that judicial interpretation of laws is the appropriate vehicle for developing legal standards and should be used whenever justified by the needs of society or public sentiment. Proponents of judicial activism also believe that constitutional issues must be decided within the context of contemporary society. They adopt the view that the meaning of the Constitution is relative to the collective beliefs, sentiments, and values of society at the time in which the law is being interpreted. For further written and video explanation, discussion and practice questions, see Theories of Judicial Review: Judicial Restraint vs. Judicial Activism


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