Skip to main content

The Educator's Academy

Helping to transform education and ourselves.

Public Education Today
Government 12th Grade
Intro to Gov't 1
Government Origins 2
U. S. Constitution 3
Federal System 4
Congress 5
Congressional Powers 6
Congress & Laws 7
Executive Branch 8
Presidential Powers 9
Federal Government 10
Judicial Branch 11
Supreme Court 12
Court Decisions 13
Citizenship 14
Law 15
Political Parties 16
Elections & Voting 17
Global History
US History
Innovations & Curriculum
Technology & Education
ES BOCES Summer School
Moneyball & Education
Member Login
Site Map
The Judicial Branch -11




Section 1:    Powers of the Federal Courts

Section 2:    Lower Federal Courts

Section 3:    The Supreme Court


 Slide show - What do we already know about our legal system?


The building itself:  CNN: Inside the Supreme Court




If we look at the 3 branches of government, the legislative branch makes the laws, the executive branch carries out the law and the judicial branch interprets the law.




Section 1:       Powers of the Federal Courts


·        Concurrent jurisdiction - when both federal and state courts have jurisdiction.

·        Original jurisdiction -the court in which a case is originally tried

·        Appellate jurisdiction – A court where an appeal is heard such as the U.S. Supreme Court.

·        Litigants are people involved in a lawsuit. 

·        due process clause



The power of the U.S. Supreme Court has evolved over time. The U.S. Constitution was designed to be flexible is so far as amendments could be made to fit changing times and the notion of judicial review as established early in our nation's history.


Artible III of the U.S. Constitution establishes the third branch of government, the judiciary (the U.S. Supreme Court)



Article III


Section 1.

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 judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.


Section 2.

The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority;--to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls;--to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction;--to controversies to which the United States shall be a party;--to controversies between two or more states;--between a state and citizens of another state;--between citizens of different states;--between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, and between a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects.

In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make.

The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the state where the said crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any state, the trial shall be at such place or places as the Congress may by law have directed.


Section 3.

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.



Jurisdiction of the Courts


·        The federal court system consists of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts.  The Constitution authorizes Congress to establish the lower federal courts.





·        Federal courts have jurisdiction over cases involving federal laws.


 News and Events for the Southern District of New York



·        State courts have jurisdiction over cases involving state laws


·        The trial court has original jurisdiction when it is the court in which a case is originally tried.  When people lose a case in a trial court and wish to appeal the decision, they may take the case to a court with appellate jurisdiction.


What is the difference between district court and appeals court?


Both courts are parts of the US Federal Court system, although they are more properly called the United States District Court and the United States Court of Appeals. The US District court is the general federal trial level court having original jurisdiction in most federal matters. This is the court where actual trails in civil and criminal matters are heard. The US Court of Appeals is the first federal court having only appellate jurisdiction. Appeals from decisions of the District Court are taken to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals has no authority or jurisdiction to hear trials It can only hear arguments that mistakes were made in the actual trial and rule whether there had been mistakes or not and if there were, whether the District Court decision should be upheld or reversed. Appeals from decisions of the Court of Appeals may then be taken to the US Supreme Court. The US court system is a three tiered system with the District Court being the first level, then the Court of Appeals then the US Supreme Court.



Developing Supreme Court Power



Theories of Constitutional Interpretation


Some refer to our constitution as a "living constitution;" John Locke wrote the a government should be able to adapt to changing times.

Others legal scholars feel that court decisions should be based on the perceived original intent of the founding fathers. On such jurist is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia. This link is an interview with Justice Scalia on the matter.


·        In the case of Marbury v. Madison (1803), the Court asserted that it had the power of  judicial review—the power to determine whether a law or government action is constitutional.



·        In McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), the Court established that the federal government was “supreme in its sphere of action.”



·        In the case of Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), the Court broadened the definition of interstate commerce in a way that increased the power of the federal government.


·        In Dred Scott v. Sandford  (1857), the Court declared that African Americans could not  be citizens and that the Missouri Compromise of Congress was unconstitutional.


Due Process



·        After the Civil War, the Supreme Court issued rulings on the Thirteenth (ends slavery), Fourteenth (former slaves as citizens, due process, juris solis), and Fifteenth (former slaves can vote) Amendments—the Reconstruction amendments.


·        The rulings were intended to ensure the rights and liberties of newly freed African Americans.



·        The Fourteenth Amendment contains the due process clause, which says that no state may deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.


·        Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) established the “separate but equal” doctrine, which held that if facilities for both races were equal, they could be separate.



·        In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), the Court outlawed segregation in public schools.  This reversed the Plessy v. Ferguson case.   Brown is a good example of what it takes to overturn a court decision, that is, it takes another court decision or an constitutional amendment.





Section 2:       Lower Federal Courts



·        grand jury

·        indictment

·        petit jury

·        judicial circuit



  • The Department of Justice is responsible for prosecuting federal crimes and for representing the government in civil cases; it is the most frequent litigator in the federal court system.
  • Several other executive branch agencies affect the operations of the courts. The United States Marshals Service, for example, provides security for federal courthouses and judges, and the General Services Administration builds and maintains federal courthouses



Constitutional Courts


·        Courts established by Congress under the provisions of Article III of the Constitution are constitutional courts.   These courts include: the federal district courts, the federal courts of appeals, and the United States Court of International Trade.   United States district courts are the trial courts for both criminal and civil federal cases.

·        District courts use two types of juries in criminal cases:


o   A grand jury, which usually includes 16 to 23 people, hears charges against a person suspected of having committed a crime.  If a grand jury believes sufficient evidence exists to bring the person to trial, it issues an indictment—a formal accusation charging a person with a crime.



Charging George Zimmerman: Why Bypass the Grand Jury?


Former DA explains grand jury procedure


Grand Juror's Handbook for New York State



Grand Jury wraps up second day in APS cheating scandal



o   A petit jury, which usually consists of 6 or 12 people, is a trial jury.


"Jury duty notices sent out for George Zimmerman murder trial"

"Opening statement of the State of Florida against George Zimmerman"


The Trial of Casey Anthony - Daily Summaries of Trial Events and Testimony


·        Many appointed officials provide support services for district courts, including:  a U.S. attorney, a U.S. magistrate, a U.S. marshal, court clerk, bailiffs, a stenographer


·        The appellate level includes 13 United States courts of appeals.

·        The U.S. is divided into 12 judicial circuits, or regions, with 1 appellate court in each circuit.         The thirteenth court is a special appeals court with national jurisdiction.

·        The courts of appeals may decide an appeal in one of three ways: uphold the original decision,   reverse that decision; or send the case back to the lower court to be tried again.



Legislative Courts


·        Congress has created a series of courts called the legislative courts that help Congress exercise its powers.


·        The U.S. Court of Federal Claims is a court of original jurisdiction that handles claims against the United States for money damages.


·        Congress established the Tax Court in 1969 to hear cases from citizens who disagree with the Internal Revenue Service or other Treasury Department agencies about their federal taxes.


·        Congress has created a territorial court system for the Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico that are roughly similar to district courts in how they operate.


·        Because the District of Columbia is a federal district, Congress has developed a judicial system for the nation’s capital.


·        In 1988 Congress created the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans to hear appeals from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in the Department of Veterans Affairs.


·        Congress created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 1978 as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.


Selection of Federal Judges

·        Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution provides that the president, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoints all federal judges

·        Presidents favor judges who belong to their own political party.

·        Because judges are appointed for life, presidents view judicial appointments as a means of perpetuating their political views even after they have left office.

·        Under the senatorial courtesy system, a president submits the name of a judicial candidate to the senators from the candidate’s state before submitting it for formal Senate approval.





Section 3:       The Supreme Court



THE SUPREME COURT | Episode 1 Excerpt | PBS

·        riding the circuit

·        opinion



Supreme Court Jurisdiction


·        Until 1891, justices earned much of their pay while riding the circuit, or traveling to hold court in their assigned regions.


·        Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution addresses two types of cases in which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction:

o   cases involving representatives of foreign governments and

o   certain cases in which a state is a party.


·        The Supreme Court can also hear cases appealed from the highest court of a state if claims under federal law or the Constitution are involved.


·        The Supreme Court is comprised of nine justices: the chief justice of the United States and eight associate justices.


·        The Supreme Court’s duty involves them in three decision-making tasks:

o   deciding which cases to hear from among the thousands appealed to the Court each year;

o   deciding the case itself; and determining an explanation for the decision, called the Court’s opinion.


·        The chief justice’s duties include:  presiding over sessions and conferences at which the justices discuss cases;  assigning the writing of the Court’s opinion to one of the justices who voted for the ruling; and helping administer the federal court system.


Interview with Chief Justice John Roberts



·        The Court’s law clerks assist the justices with many tasks, enabling the justices to concentrate on their pressing duties.


Appointing Justices


·        Justices reach the Court through appointment by the president with Senate approval.


·        Political considerations often affect a president’s choice of a nominee to the Court


First female Supreme Court Justice - Sandra Day-O'Connor


Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Nomination Hearings from PBS NewsHour


John Roberts: Supreme Court Nomination Hearings from PBS NewsHour and EMK

·        Presidents prefer to nominate a candidate whose political beliefs are similar to their own.


Justice Scalia On Life Part 1


·        The American Bar Association evaluates the professional qualifications of candidates for all Article III judicial positions—the Supreme Court, the United States Courts of Appeals, and the United States District Courts.


·        Interest groups that have a stake in Supreme Court decisions may attempt to influence the selection process.


·        Members of the Supreme Court sometimes have considerable influence in the selection of new justices.


·        As leaders of the Court, chief justices have often been very active in the selection process.


Lower Federal Courts: Constitutional courts

·        Established by Congress under the provisions of Article III of the Constitution


·        Include federal district courts, federal courts of appeals, and United States Court of International Trade


·        Lower Federal Courts: Legislative courts


·        Created by Congress under provisions in Article I of the Constitution to help Congress carry out its powers


·        Include United States Tax Court, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, Court of Appeals for Veterans, and others


The Supreme Court


·       Original jurisdiction in cases involving representatives of foreign countries and certain cases in which a state is a party

·        Appellate jurisdiction in cases that are appealed from lower courts of appeals or from a state’s highest court, as well as certain cases from federal district courts in which an act of Congress was held unconstitutional

·        Justices appointed by president with Senate approval


Development of Supreme Court Power


·        1801–1883: Marshall Court extended power of Supreme Court and strengthened federal power over the states


·        1803: Marbury v. Madison established power of judicial review


·        1953–1969: Warren Court adopted a more liberal view on civil rights and public-policy issues



Major decisions of the Warren Court 



The Case for Cameras in the Supreme Court???



Elena Kagan on TV Cameras in the Supreme Court