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amicus curiae

"Friend of the court"; amici may file briefs or even appear to argue their interests orally before the court.

appellate court

Court that generally reviews only findings of law made by lower courts.

appellate jurisdiction

The power vested in particular courts to review and/or revise the decision of a lower court.


A document containing the legal written arguments in a case filed with a court by a party prior to a hearing or trial.

criminal law

Codes of behavior related to the protection of property and individual safety.

constitutional courts

Federal courts specifically created by the U.S. Constitution or by Congress pursuant to its authority in Article III.

civil law

Codes of behavior related to the conduct and relationships between private individuals or groups.


Authority vested in a particular court to hear and decide the issues in a particular case.

Judiciary Act of 1789

Legislative act that established the basic three-tiered structure of the federal court system.

judicial review

Power of the courts to review acts of other branches of government and the states.

judicial restraint

A philosophy of judicial decision making that posits courts should allow the decisions of other branches of government to stand, even when they offend a judge's own principles.

judicial implementation

How and whether judicial decisions are translated into actual public policies affecting more than the immediate parties to a lawsuit.

judicial activism

A philosophy of judicial decision making that posits judges should use their power broadly to further justice.

legislative courts

Courts established by Congress for specialized purposes, such as the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Marbury v Madison (1803)

Case in which the Supreme Court first asserted the power of judicial review by finding that the congressional statute extending the Court's original jurisdiction was unconstitutional.

original jursidiction

The jurisdiction of courts that hear a case first, usually in a trial. These courts determine the facts of a case.


A prior judicial decision that serves as a rule for settling subsequent cases of a similar nature.

Rule of Four

At least four justices of the Supreme Court must vote to consider a case before it can be heard.

senatorial courtesy

Process by which presidents generally defer selection of district court judges to the choice of senators of their own party who represent the state where the vacancy occurs.

solicitor general

The fourth-ranking member of the Department of Justice; responsible for handling nearly all appeals on behalf of the U.S. government to the Supreme Court.

stare decisis

In court rulings, a reliance on past decisions or precedents to formulate decisions in new cases.

strict constructionist

An approach to constitutional interpretation that emphasizes interpreting the Constitution as it was written and intended by the Framers.

trial court

Court of original jurisdiction where cases begin.

writ of certiorari

A request for the Supreme Court to order up the records from a lower court to review the case.

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