Judicial Branch

The judicial branch of the US Federal government is one of the three branches. You have the legislative, which is Congress.

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You have the executive branch, which is the President. And then you have the judicial branch, which is our system of courts.

Mini-test: Social Studies – Judicial Branch 

84. Which of the following statements about the judicial branch of the U.S. Government is incorrect?
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85. What is Judicial Review?
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The next lesson: Legislative Branch, both lessons are included in Practice Tests.

The transcript is provided for your convenience
And the highest court of our land is which court? The Supreme Court. And where does the Supreme Court meet? In a Supreme Court building, that was a trick question. How many Supreme Court Justices are there? There are nine. Nine Supreme Court Justices, and who appoints them? The President. The President makes the nominations, and then Congress has to vote to approve them.

And how long do they serve? How long do Supreme Court Justices and all federal judges serve? They serve for life. So, they can choose to retire, and a lot of times, they’ll choose to retire at a time when a President of the same party that appointed them is in power to kind of preserve the balance of power, if you will, between parties on the Supreme Court. And sometimes, they may die in office, in which case, the current President would appoint them.

Aside from the Supreme Court, below that, there are courts of appeals, and there’s one court of appeals for each judicial circuit in the country. Now, how many of those are there? There are 13. So, there are 13 courts of appeal that feed cases into the Supreme Court. Now, underneath court of appeals, the lower level are district courts. And how many district courts are there in the country? 94. There are 94 district courts. And so, cases that are heard at this level, some of them are appealed to this level, and some of those are appealed to this level.

Now, how many cases do you think are put to the Supreme Court, and where the Supreme Court is asked to hear these cases in a year? How many laws? 4,500 are presented to Supreme Court, but they don’t hear 4,500, they only hear about 200 a year. And so, there aren’t many cases that are heard by Supreme Court relative to the demand, but they choose cases that are benchmark cases that would kind of explain possibly a controversial area of law, and each of their verdicts is closely watched because it trickle-down and affects opinions at all the different levels.

Now, when you think of the judicial branch, you think, “Well, what do they do?” Because Congress makes the law. The President enforces the law. What the judiciary does is they explain the laws, or they interpret the laws. And the way they do that is they make judgments. And so, Congress will make a law, and it’ll be applied to a certain situation, but you may have lawyers or businesses or two people on different sides that think that this law should be interpreted a different way. Well, who’s to decide?

If you have a law that says something should be done, but it doesn’t quite define how it should be done, or who should do it, or how much they should do it, or when they’ve done it enough, who makes that decision? So, what happens is a lawsuit gets filed between two parties, and it’s taken before a district court judge. And they hear out the matter, and they decide through their understanding, their interpretation of the Constitution through looking at other laws that have already been passed, and judgments that had been rendered, and they make a decision on how the law that Congress passed should be interpreted. And that settles things.

Now, one of the things they can do, one of the powers, one of the early powers is very important that the US Supreme Court kind of took upon itself. It’s not spelled out explicitly in the Constitution, is the power of judicial review. And this is a very important concept, and one of the most important terms that you should remember when it comes to the judiciary and the judicial branch. Judicial review is the power of the courts to determine if a law is unconstitutional. So, if Congress can pass a law, but the Supreme Court in particular can look at that law and say, “This law violates the US Constitution.” And the US Constitution is the highest law of the land. And so, when you have two laws in conflict, which one prevails? The Constitution prevails.

And the Supreme Court is there to make sure that Congress doesn’t pass laws that are unconstitutional, and if there’s a question of, “Is this law constitutional?” The Supreme Court makes the decision, and effectively, whatever they decide is the correct answer on the constitutionality of a given law. And this is a very important power, it helps curb the power of the legislative branch to make laws. And so, if Congress goes out there and makes just a wild, crazy law, the court system can rein that in, and keep it from taking over and dominating our, you know, constitutional system that we have.

And so, it’s an important part of the three branches. It’s to protect our liberties and make sure that Congress or the President don’t trample, roughshod over them. Some people, some of the judgments can be controversial, and people can say that a judge abuses their power, but the intent of the Constitution was to divide the powers, and to make it where each side had a different strength, and it would be balanced across the board. And so, this is the judicial branch, and they explain the laws that Congress makes.

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The next lesson: Legislative Branch, both lessons are included in Practice Tests.