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The Dueling Banjos State vs. Federal

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The Dueling Banjos (State vs. Federal)
The United States Judicial System

Dee Montano
April 3, 2012
Sherre D. Corniel

The Dueling Banjos (State vs. Federal) The United States Judicial System

Frustration, confusion, and complexity; these three words can and are used regularly to describe the justice system within the United States. A better understanding of the history, principles, and role of the dual court system is necessary for a comprehensive understanding of the American justice system.
FEDERALISM vs. ANTI-FEDERALISM The roots of the modern court system in the United States can be found in the principle of federalism. When the delegates met in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention among other issues that needed to be addressed was a national judicial system; the Articles of Confederation was woefully inadequate in providing for this. The dual judicial system that exists today was given life with the passage of Article III of the U.S. Constitution ("[t]he 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.") Article III was a compromise between the Federalists, supporters of a strong central government, who thought that the federal judiciary should contain all of the courts (trial, appellate, and supreme). Whereas the Anti-Federalists, proponents of states’ rights, believed that an all-inclusive federal judiciary would minimize states’ rights and lead to an all-powerful federal government. Instead of the all-inclusive federal judiciary, they proposed that states hold jurisdiction over trial and appellate courts and that a national supreme court would hear final appeals. One of Congress’ first acts when it first met was to pass the Judiciary Act of 1789. This laid out the establishment of the Supreme Court, Circuit Courts, and District Courts for the United States. The act itself helped to further cement a compromise between the federalists and the anti-federalists; by constructing a trial and appellate level, as Federalists wanted, and it gave the state courts concurrent jurisdiction over many federal issues, as the Anti-Federalists wanted. It also limited the jurisdiction of the federal courts, and set a high monetary threshold for diversity cases (cases that must have a monetary value of $75,000 or more when litigants are form different states). It was generally agreed by the nation’s founders that individual states should retain “significant autonomy from federal control” (Wallace H. , 2003, p. 93). Using this concept of federalism, the loosely aligned states developed their own courts and most crimes were tried at the state level. The federal court system operated in a restricted manner for some time and only later did the federal government and the federal judiciary begin to exert jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters. A consequence of congressional mandates/actions, federal statutes (Judiciary Act of 1789, Judiciary Act of 1925, and Magistrate’s Act 1968) and other historical events have left a dual state and federal court system that survives to this day.
FEDERAL COURT SYSTEM-SUPREME COURT The U.S. Judiciary spent its first 10 years of existence as the weakest of the three branches of government. The earliest federal courts neither issued strong opinions nor took on controversial cases. That changed in 1801 when President John Adams appointed John Marshall of Virginia as the fourth Chief Justice. Up until then the Supreme Court was not sure if it had the power to decide constitutionality of laws passed by Congress; however, all of that changed when John Marshall took decisive steps to identify the powers and operations of the Supreme Court as well as the judiciary system. In 1803 the Supreme Court was clearly defined in the landmark case of Marbury v. Madison. This historic case set the precedent of judicial review that allowed for the Judicial Branch of the government to declare a law unconstitutional. In addition it gave the judicial branch equal standing with the other two branches of government and helped to cement the checks and balances that the founding fathers had envisioned. John Marshall continued to serve as Chief Justice for an additional 34 years and is credited with molding the federal judicial system into what could conceivably be called the most powerful of the three branches of the government. The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in the land (the court of last resort). The Supreme Court is principally an appellate court and has original jurisdiction in cases such as: between a state and a citizen of another country; cases concerning ministers, consuls, and foreign ambassadors; cases encompassing the United States and a state. It also has the capacity for judicial review of all lower court decisions, and state, and federal statutes.
FEDERAL COURT SYSTEM-U.S. COURTS OF APPEAL Within the federal judicial system there are 94 judicial districts that have been organized into 12 regional circuits. Each circuit has one U.S. Court of Appeals that hears appeals from the lower 94 judicial district courts, and appeals on decisions for federal regulatory agencies. This 12 circuit appellate court has nationwide jurisdiction and can also hear specialized cases such as: bankruptcy, patent, and international trade. A large percentage of cases heard at the federal district court level go to the court of appeals as the federal appellate courts have automatic jurisdiction over the decisions of circuit courts within their circuits. Also because of automatic jurisdiction U.S. Courts of Appeal are required to hear any cases brought before them.
U.S. Courts of Appeal Locator

FEDERAL COURT SYSTEM-U.S. DISTRICT COURTS There are 94 federal judicial districts or U.S. District Courts that are basically the trial courts for the federal court system. These courts have jurisdiction to hear almost all types of federal cases, including civil, and criminal. Each state and territory of the United States has at least one district court with more populous states having up to four. Each state/territory also has a U.S. Bankruptcy Court as part of its District Court system.
STATE COURT SYSTEM—THE DEVELOPMENT Since the founding of the American colonies there has been a state court system for resolving both civil and criminal disputes. However, the functions, duties, and definitions varied from state to state, and often times had overlapping jurisdictions, confusing structures (in one state a judge might be referred to as a magistrate, while in another a justice of the peace). In earliest courts the state governor as well as the legislature would be responsible for not only creating laws, but also held trials, and imposed sentences. Oftentimes a state did not have a court of appeals and states that did have an appeals process would use state legislatures for that purpose. With the end of the American Revolution a loose organizational basis was in place for the state court system to develop. However, it was not until the late nineteenth century that the modern day State Court system began to take shape. The close of the 1800’s saw a marked trend in urbanization, population growth, and westward expansionism that led to an exponential increase in civil and criminal proceedings. State legislatures looked to the three tiered federal court system: trial courts of limited jurisdiction, trial courts of general jurisdiction and appellate courts. However, uniformity in names, procedures, and functions of the various state cases was not to become the norm for some decades yet to come.
STATE COURT SYSTEM—THE REFORM With the proliferation of courts in the early twentieth century and the cases that were being brought before them (traffic, juvenile, property disputes, enforcement of regulatory ordinances, probate, and disorderly conduct); it soon became apparent that the state court system was becoming overly complicated and that many courts either had overlapping jurisdiction or were redundant. The American Bar Association and the American Judicature Society spearheaded a movement to streamline the state court structures. It was suggested that there be a centralized system made up of a clearly defined order of trial and appellate courts, a merging of overlapping jurisdictions and lower-level courts and a “centralized state court authority……..budgeting, financing and managing all courts within the state” (F. Schmalleger, 2009, p. 314). Although there are still differences between state court systems, they are not nearly as pronounced. Those states that have chosen to follow the reform movement typically have a more streamlined clearly defined trial court system that is complemented by an appellate court. Nonreform states still suffer from a hodgepodge of multilevel and redundant court system; oftentimes with over lapping jurisdictions. With the increasing complexity and new types (cyber-crime, terrorism, identity theft, national/international child pornography, medial marijuana, immigration just to name a few) of the cases being brought before the courts it stands to reason that state courts will become more critical, and more overwhelmed than ever in the American judicial process. With this increase in workload those states that are still operating in a nonreform manner will only see their backlog of cases grow and scarce resource dollars will become even scarcer.

Works Cited
Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on behalf of the Federal Judiciary. (Unknown, Unknown Unknown). United States Courts. Retrieved April 9, 2012, from United States Courts, Court Locator:
F. Schmalleger, P. (2009). Criminal Justice Today: An Introductory Text for the 21st Century, Tenth Edition. In P. Frank Schmalleger, Criminal Justice Today: An Introductory Text for the 21st Century, Tenth Edition (pp. 1-400). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, Pearson Educaton, Inc.
Wallace, H. (2003). "Courts Organization.". In H. Wallace, Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime. Ed. (pp. 95-98). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference Online.…...

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