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Howard Yin

February 17, 2016
Patterson’s Outlines
Chapter 14: Federal Judicial System

Citizens United v. FEC (2010) upheld spending restrictions infringed on the free
speech rights of corporations and unions
SC’s campaign finance ruling illustrates 3 key points:
o Judiciary is an important policymaking body
o Judiciary has considerable discretion in its rulings
o Judiciary is a political as well as legal institution; campaign finance ruling was
a product of contending political forces, had political continent, and was
decided by political appointees (all five justices that voted to allow unlimited

corporate spending were appointed by a Republican president)
Judiciary is not a democratic institution; its role is different from and in some ways,

more controversial than the roles of the executive and legislative
Judiciary includes SC, which functions mainly as an appellate court; court of appeals,

which hear appeals; and the district courts, which hold trials.
Judicial decisions are constrained by applicable constitutional law, statutory law and

administrative law, and precedent
Judiciary has become an increasingly powerful policymaking body in recent decades,
raising the question of the judiciary’s proper role in a democracy.

Federal Judicial System
1. All federal judges are nominated and appointed to office by the president, subject to
confirmation by majority vote in the Senate
a. Constitution places no age, residency, or citizenship requirements on the
office of federal judge.
b. They “hold their offices during good behavior” federal judges serve until
they die or retire voluntarily
c. No Supreme Court justice and only a handful of lower-court judges have been
removed through impeachment and conviction by Congress
2. Whereas congressional power rests on spending authority and presidential authority
rests on control of military force, judicial power rests on what Hamilton called
“judgment”—the reasonableness and fairness of its decisions
3. The Supreme Court of the US
a. Article III grants the SC both original and appellate jurisdiction
i. Court’s jurisdiction is its authority to hear cases of a particular type
ii. Original jurisdiction is the authority to be the first to hear a case

1. SC’s original jurisdiction includes legal disputes involving
foreign diplomats and cases in which the opposing parties are
state governments
b. Appellate jurisdiction is the authority to review cases that have already been
heard in lower courts and are appealed to a high court by the losing party.
i. Higher courts called appellate courts/appeals court
ii. Rather than retry law, they determine whether a trial court has acted in
accord with applicable law
iii. SC’s appellate jurisdiction extends to cases arising under the
Constitution, federal law and regulations, and treaties
iv. Also hears appeals involving legal controversies that cross state or
national boundaries
4. Selecting and Deciding Cases
a. SC’s power is most apparent when it declares another institution’s action to
be unconstitutional judicial review asserted in Marbury v. Madison
b. Judicial review is most dramatic power; SC’s main responsibility is to establish
legal precedents that will guide the decisions of lower courts
i. Lower courts are expected to follow precedent
ii. If at least four of the justices agree to hear the case, the Court issues
a writ of certiorari a request to the lower to submit to the SC a
record of the case
iii. SC is most likely to grant certiorari when the US government through
the solicitor general requests it
c. Court’s job is not to correct the errors of other courts but to resolve substantial
legal issues; its own guidelines say there must be “compelling reasons” for
accepting a case (3/4ths of SC decisions reverse the lower court’s judgment)
d. Each side provides the Court with a written brief, which contains its full
i. The oral session is followed by the judicial conference, which is
attended only by the nine justices and in which they discuss and vote
on the case
5. Issuing Decisions and Opinions
a. The decision indicates which party the Court supports and by how large a
i. The most important part of the ruling is the opinion, which explains the
legal basis for the decision
b. When the majority of the justices agree on the legal basis of a decision, the
result is a majority opinion
i. There may be no majority decision when a majority of the justices
agree on the decision but disagree on the legal basis for it (plurality

ii. Concurring opinion: a separate view written by a justice who votes with
the majority but disagrees with the reasoning
iii. Dissenting opinion: justices on the losing side explain the reasons for
disagreeing with the majority position
6. Other Federal Courts
a. US District Courts
i. Are the lowest federal courts; federal district courts are the chief trial
courts of the
ii. Are the only
where the

federal system
courts in the federal system
two sides present their
case to a jury for a

iii. Lower federal courts rely on and follow Supreme Court decisions in
their own rulings
iv. Still, idea that they are rigidly bound to SC rulings is part of the uppercourt myth
1. District court judges might misunderstand the SC’s position
and deviate from it for that reason
2. Facts of a case before a district court are seldom identical to
those of a case settled by the SC
3. Ambiguities or unaddressed issues in SC rulings give lower
courts some flexibility in deciding cases
v. Most federal cases end with the district court’s decision
b. US Courts of Appeals
i. Courts of appeals do not use juries; appellate judges act as
supervisors in the legal system
1. Appellate courts base their decision on a review of the lower
court’s records
ii. Are 13 courts of appeals; 11 of them have jurisdiction over a “circuit”
made up of the district courts in anywhere from 3 to 9 states

1. Of the remaining 2, one has jurisdiction over the District of
Columbia and the other has jurisdiction over patents and
international trade
2. Each case usually is heard by a panel of 3 judges
iii. Each circuit is monitored by a SC justice who typically takes the lead
in reviewing appeals originating in that circuit
1. Courts of appeals offer the only real hope of reversal for many
appellants, because the Supreme Court hears so few cases
c. Special US Courts
i. Federal judiciary includes a few specialty courts: US Claims Court, US
Court of International Trade, US Court of Military Appeals
7. The State Courts
a. The 10th Amendment protects each state in its sovereignty, and each state
has its own court system.
i. Like federal court systems, they also have trial courts at the bottom
level and appellate courts at the top
b. Each state decides for itself the structure of its courts and the method of
selecting judges; some states the governor appoints judges, but in most
states judges are elected to office; other states use a mixed system called the
merit plan
i. Governor appoints a judge from a short list of acceptable candidates
provided by a judicial selection commission
ii. After the first scheduled election after the selected judge has served
for a year, the voters by a simple yes or no decide whether the judge
should be allowed to state
c. There also exists a “federal court myth” which holds that the federal judiciary
is the most significant part of the judicial system and that state courts play a
subordinate role.

i. More than 95% of
nation’s legal cases are
decided by state or
local courts
ii. Most cases arising
under criminal law and
arising under civil law
are defined by state
d. Nearly all cases that originate
in state or local courts also
end there; federal courts do
not come into the picture
because the case does not
involve a federal issue
i. In most state criminal
cases, there is also no
federal issue unless
state authorities are
alleged to have violated
a right protected by the
ii. In such instances, an
individual convicted in a state court can, after exhausting the avenues
of an appeal in the state system, appeal to a federal court
e. Federal courts are also disinclined, when a provision of federal law does not
clearly resolve a case, to substitute their own interpretation of a state’s law for
that applied by the state court
i. Legal and factual determinations of state courts can bind the federal

courts—a clear contradiction of the federal court myth
Issues traditionally within the jurisdiction of the states can become federal

issues through the rulings of federal courts (e.g.; Lawrence v. Texas)
8. Laws fall into 3 broad categories—procedural, civil, and criminal
a. Procedural refers to rules that govern the legal process
b. Civil law governs relations with and between private parties
c. Criminal law deals with acts that government defines as illegal
d. Private law refers to the legal rights and relationships between private parties
Federal Court Appointees
1. Supreme Court Nominees
a. Presidents usually appoint jurists who have a compatible political philosophy

b. Within the Senate, the key body is the Judiciary Committee, whose members
have responsibility for conducting hearings on judicial nominees and
recommending their confirmation or rejection by the full Senate
c. Today, a nominee with strong professional and ethical credentials is less likely
to be blocked for partisan reasons alone
2. Lower-Court Nominees
a. President typically delegates to the deputy attorney general the task of
identifying potential nominees for lower-court judgeships
b. Senatorial courtesy holds that a senator from the state in which a vacancy
has arisen should be consulted on the choice of the nominee if the senator is
of the same party as the president
c. Lower-court appointments are collectively significant; a president who serves
two terms can shape the federal judiciary for years to come
d. More than 90% of the recent district and appeals court nominees have been
members of the president’s political party
3. Personal Backgrounds of Judicial Appointees
a. White males are overrepresented on the federal bench, just as they dominate
in Congress and at the top levels of the executive branch
b. SC has a degree of diversity; 3 are women, 2 are minority-group members
The Nature of Judicial Decision Making
1. Legal Influences on Judicial Decisions
a. Article III bars a federal court from issuing a decision except in response to a
case presented to itsubstantial restriction
i. As to limit judges to issues that arise from actual legal disputes
b. Facts of a particular case also limit judicial action
i. Facts are the relevant circumstances of a legal dispute or offense
c. Judicial decisions are also restricted in their breadth
i. Court ruling is binding only on the parties involved
ii. Its broader impact depends on the willingness of others to accept it
d. The major constraint on the courts is the law itself
i. Although a president or Congress can make almost any decision that
is politically acceptable, the judiciary must work within the confines of
the law
e. Judiciary works within context of 3 main sources of law: Constitution,

legislative statutes, and legal precedents
The large majority of cases that arise in courts involve statutory law and
administrative law, rather than constitutional law
i. Statutory law is legislative (statute) law
ii. Administrative law is based on statutory law but is sent by government
agencies rather than by legislatures

1. Consists of the rules, regulations, and judgments that agencies
make in the process of implementing and enforcing statutory
g. US legal system developed from the English common law tradition, which
includes the principle that a court’s decision on a case should be consistent
with previous judicial rulings (known as precedent)
i. Deference to precedent gives predictability to the application of law
2. Political Influences on Judicial Decisions
a. Law is not always a precise guide to judicial decisions with the result that
judges often have some leeway in their rulings
i. Constitution sometimes sparsely worded and vague and must adapt
ii. Judiciary also has no choice at times but to impose meaning on
statutory law
1. Statutes are typically more detailed in their provisions than is
the Constitution, but Congress cannot always anticipate the
specific applications of a legislative act and often defines
statutory provisions in general terms
2. Judiciary is then required to determine what the language
means in the context of a specific case
iii. Precedent is even less precise as a guide to decisions in that it is
specific to particular cases
b. Political influences come from both inside and outside the judicial system
c. Inside the Court: Judges’ Political Beliefs
i. Court rulings are not simply an extension of laws; they are also
influenced by the political beliefs of the people who sit on the federal
ii. Changes in the SC membership can bring about a change in its
position; justices tend to vote in line with their political attitudes
iii. SC decisions are a mix of law and politics
d. Outside the Court: The Public, Groups, and Elected Officials
i. In the long run, however, judicial decisions must be seen as fair they
are to obeyed; the judiciary cannot routinely ignore the expectations of
the general public, interest groups, and elected officials
ii. Judges are less responsive to public opinion than are elected officials,
but still stay close enough to public opinion to reduce the likelihood of
outright defiance of its decisions
iii. Interest groups also have an influence; groups petition the White
House and Congress to appoint judges and justices who share their
outlook on legal disputes
iv. Congress can rewrite legislation that it feels the judiciary has

1. President is responsible for enforcing court decisions and has
some influence over the cases that come before the courts