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Top 10 Things You May Not Know About The Legal System

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The US legal system is one of the most advanced in the world. It is designed to protect individual’s rights and to maintain law and order in society. Read on to find out the top 10 things to know about the legal system.

  1. The federal and state court systems are two entirely different systems: Under Separation of Powers, the federal court system can only hear cases that the federal government has power over. This is because the Constitution reserved only “enumerated” (mentioned) powers for federal courts, reserving the rest for the state.
  2. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction: Under the rules, federal courts can only hear cases arising out of federal law (those where the person is suing because of some federal statute or rule or because of the US Constitution) or out cases where diversity jurisdiction exists (cases where parties from different states are engaged in a lawsuit where $10,000 or more is at stake). All other cases must be brought in state court.
  3. Some cases can be brought in multiple courts: When diversity jurisdiction exists, the plaintiff has a choice to sue in either federal court or in state court. The defendant can also request to have a case moved to federal court if the plaintiff sues in a state court and diversity jurisdiction exists. Being able to choose among different courts is called “forum shopping.”
  4. The US Constitution requires only a Supreme Court: Article III of the Constitution says: “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.” This means all of the other courts in the system are optional.
  5. Courts within the United States can actually make the law: The US is a common law society. That means that when a judge interprets a given point of law or makes a decision on an issue, that essentially becomes the law. Citizens must then abide by it, unless or until a higher court changes the rule or the legislature passes a statute changing the law.
  6. Courts have to listen to other courts in their state: This is based on the principle of stare decisis or precedent. It means that if a court makes a ruling, it can’t just change its mind. A higher court would have to come overrule it or the court on the same level would have to “overturn” its original decision.
  7. The US Court system safeguards the Constitution of the US: If a law is unconstitutional, a plaintiff who is adversely affected by it can sue. The Supreme Court will then look at the situation and determine whether the law fits within the bounds of the Constitution or not. If it doesn’t, then the court can declare the law invalid.
  8. US Supreme Court justices are appointed for life: This rule is designed to ensure the justices are free to apply the law as they see fit without worrying about the political repercussions.
  9. No one is guaranteed the right to appeal to the US Supreme Court: The Supreme Court of the US receives many requests for appeals annually – called appeals for writs of certiorari. The court only accepts cases that they feel are significant, such as cases where constitutionality is at stake or where state courts have disagreed on a given issue of law.
  10. Juries can actually prevent a law from being applied: This is called jury nullification. If, for example, a jury believes that a law is unfair or improper, the jury can refuse to convict a person who violated it, even if that person did in fact violate the unjust law.
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