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COURT SYSTEM

The modern American court system developed from experimentation with a wide variety of legal systems reflecting the diverse cultures and traditions of the early inhabitants of our country. Certainly England had the most profound influence on the development of our system of justice, but even the British colonists did not reproduce the complicated, overlapping jurisdictional British courts, and most early colonies established a simpler court structure.

Each state has its own judicial and legal structure that reflects the history of that individual state. The legal systems differed according to the background of the colonists who settled that particular part of America. In states originally settled by the Dutch, French, and Spanish, the European civil code system of law was well established. When British immigrants subsequently settled in these areas with their pre-existing laws and customs, conflicts naturally arose over what law to apply and what judicial structure best enforced those laws. Civil law did not provide for trials by juries, and differs in many respects from English common law. Today, Louisiana is the only state in the country still governed by civil law derived from the Napoleonic Code. Common law, derived from the British legal system, exists in every other state and the federal government, often in an uneasy alliance with some local traditions remaining from civil law.

After the American Revolution, a legal debate arose over whether English common law should be rejected, followed, or modified. Neither Congress nor the Supreme Court could agree on what extent to apply common law or European civil law. The changing theories of jurisprudence were reflections of the changing economic and political times. The very role of the judge differed under the two systems: under the civil law system a judge is limited solely to interpreting legislation or the Constitution, while under the common law system a judge creates law. Consequently, the choice between common law and civil law involved objections to unelected individuals making law versus allowing an independent judiciary to react quickly to changing economic circumstances. The choice of jurisprudence also depended upon the political advantages of a strong federal judiciary versus the freedom advocated by those in favor of strong states' rights. In 1798, the Supreme Court held that ; since the common law varied from state to state there could be no federal common criminal law, assuaging early concerns that allowing federal criminal common law would allow a national Supreme Court to overwhelm state courts. Not until Erie Railroad v. Tompkins did the Supreme Court declare "(t)here is no federal general common law."

When Congress and the Supreme Court adopted English common law for the federal civil system, they created an immediate area of conflict with states and territories without the tradition of trial by jury. The legal legacies reflected by each state's history led to conflict with the federal government's mandates in several areas, such as trial procedures. The attempts of various territories to modify the number of required jurors, or allow verdicts on less than a twelve-person jury, or do away with a jury altooether, came into conflict with the federal recognition of the right to a common-law jury, i.e., twelve men and a unanimous verdict. The attempt to resolve these various issues kept early territorial courts busy, but few records of these lower courts still exist. Even today these tensions can be seen in attempts to modify the jury system in both civil and criminal cases.

Some areas of the new republic were no more concerned with the type of jurisprudential theory than with having a judicial system at all. The perception of the "Wild Wild West" as lawless was accurate in the sense that a good portion of the West did not have a legal or judicial system. While the Northwest Ordinance ostensibly provided for territorial legal systems, many federal leaders felt the Northwest Ordinance was unconstitutional and would not enforce it. As president, Thomas Jefferson refused to appoint any judges to hear cases, leaving litigants little means of a peaceful resolution to conflicts. Appointments were made in Washington, DC., often to individuals who knew little about any aspects of the territories they were to control. Settlers did not know what law applied to them and did not have a means to enforce the law or to redress grievances. When hearings were held, the judges were not necessarily impartial and may have known little about either the law or the circumstances; furthermore, their decisions were final, since for many years there were no means of appeal.

The conditions under which the territorial judges worked would appall many today. Often they did not have copies of the legislation they were interpreting, few legal materials or libraries were available, and even the question of whether or not the federal Constitutional Bill of Rights extended to the territories went unresolved.

No description of the history and growth of the federal and state court systems could exist without also discussing the tension between Federalists and states' rights advocates. Federalists felt the new country needed a strong federal court system, while Anti-federalists felt the well-developed system of state courts and laws were sufficient. While judicial independence was deemed important, many attendants at the Constitutional Convention were leery of the idea of unelected, appointed-for-life federal justices, considering the institution to be anti-democratic. Eventually a compromise was made allowing Congress to retain some democratic control: the president nominates appointees for the judiciary, while the appointees must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. This Advice and Consent power of the Senate created a method by which elected representatives could influence the executive and judicial branches. The two-thirds requirement for approval has led to bitter and contentious nomination hearings as the
Senate has attempted to use its Advice and Consent powers to control either the Supreme
Court or the president.

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TITLE: Law and Legal Services at CitiMall Shopping Mall

Law Category: Prepaid Legal Services, Law , Legal, Attorney, Advice, Firm, Search, Attorneys, Lawyers, Power of Attorney, Durable, Forms

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