This week's theme is the judicial branch. The judicial branch is one of the 3 branches of government I discussed in last week's blog post. The citizenship test has several potential test questions on the judiciary, so I decided to devote this whole post to those questions. Many people don't know exactly what the courts do, so I hope to shed some light on the judicial branch!
Question 51: What does the judicial branch do?
Answer: reviews laws; explains laws; resolves disputes; decides if a law goes against the Constitution
The judicial branch (the courts) has several roles. In its most basic form, the court resolves disputes. Think about going into a courthouse in your county -- the court determines who wins a lawsuit and whether a criminal is guilty of a crime. The courts are also tasked with interpreting the laws, explaining them, and making sure that they are Constitutional.
Question 52: What is the highest court in the United States?
Answer: The Supreme Court
The chart above shows the process of getting a case to the United States Supreme Court. All cases start at the bottom, either in a state district or superior court, or in federal district court. These courts have a trial, where either the judge or a jury hears evidence and decides which side wins the case.
Federal district courts hear cases involving a federal question (a federal law, the Constitution, or an international treaty), or "diversity" cases involving parties from different states and worth more than $75,000.
North Carolina state district courts hear civil cases of less than $25,000, and misdemeanor criminal cases. North Carolina superior courts hear civil cases of $25,000 or more, and felony criminal cases.
After the trial, either party may appeal the result to an appellate court. In federal cases, the case would be appealed to one of the 13 federal circuits. North Carolina and Virginia are both subject to the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. In state cases, the case moves up to the state court of appeals, and eventually to the state Supreme Court.
From the appeals court, a case may move to the United States Supreme Court. State Supreme Court cases may only be appealed to the US Supreme Court if they involve an issue of federal or Constitutional law. The Supreme Court has the discretion to take whatever cases it wants, and is not obligated to take any case. Usually, the Supreme Court will only take cases of national importance. Additionally, the Supreme Court may take cases that have never been heard in a lower court. This usually happens if two states are suing each other, or if the case involves a foreign diplomat.
Question 53: How many justices are on the Supreme Court?
The Constitution doesn't specify how many justices there should be on the Court. The first Court was made up of 6 justices; it eventually grew to 10. In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to "pack" the court with up to 15 justices who would approve of his economic plans, but this was prevented by Congress. The Court has had 9 justices since 1869.
Question 54: Who is the Chief Justice of the United States now?
Answer: John Roberts
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is basically the same as the other justices, except he has some extra administrative duties. For example, the Chief Justice presides over an impeachment trial if the President is impeached. The Chief Justice presides over oral arguments, decides who writes the majority opinion of cases, and administers the Oath of Office to the President.
While the Chief Justice does not have any more power on the Court than any of the other associate justices, he is considered the figurehead of the Court. The Chief Justice can either be appointed by the President to replace a retiring Chief Justice, or can be selected from among the remaining associate justices and promoted to the position of Chief Justice.
Chief Justice John Roberts has served in his position since 2005. He replaced Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
Question 55: What is the "rule of law"?
Answer: everyone must follow the law; leaders must obey the law; no one is above the law
The "rule of law" means that a nation is governed by laws made by the people, instead of arbitrary decisions made by a leader. In medieval times, people came before the king or local leader to ask for disputes to be resolved. The monarch or leader's decision could be totally arbitrary.
Under the "rule of law", those in power have to follow the law and apply it equally to all cases. This is an important aspect of democracy. We the people have the right to elect people to make our laws, and then the laws must be applied to everyone in the same way, so that no person gets special treatment.