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Vocabulary and important terms or cases from the American Government & Politics Today 2010-2011 Brief Edition

Common Law

Judge-made law that originated in England from decisions shaped according to prevailing custom. Decisions were applied to similar situations and gradually became common to the nation.


A court rule bearing on subsequent legal decisions in similar cases. Judges rely on this in deciding cases.

Stare Decisis

To stand on decided cases; the judicial policy of following precedents established by past decisions

Case Law

judicial interpretations of common law principles an doctrines, as well as interpretations of consitutional law, statuary law, and administrative law


The authority of a court to decide certain cases. Not all courts have the authority to decide all cases. Where a case arises and what its subject matter is are two issues.

Federal Question

a question that had to do with the US Constitution, acts of Congress, or treaties; it provides a basis for federal jurisdiction

Diversity of Citizenship

The condition that exists when the parties to a lawsuit are citizens of different states, or when the parties are citizens of a U.S. state and citizens or the government of a foreign country. Diversity of citizenship can provide a basis for federal jurisdiction.

Justiciable Controversy

A controversy that is real and substantial, as opposed to hypothetical or academic.


to engage in a legal proceeding or seek relief in a court of law; to carry on a lawsuit

Amicus Curiae Brief

A brief (a document containing a legal argument supporting a desired outcome in a particular case) filed by a third party, ________ (Latin for "friend of the court"), who is not directly involved in the litigation but who has an interest in the outcome of the case.

Class-Action Suit

a lawsuit filed by a individual seeking damdages for "all persons similarly situated"

Trial Court

the court in which most cases begin

General Jurisdiction

Exists when a court's authority to hear cases is not significantly restricted. Normally can hear a broad range of cases.

Limited Jurisdiction

exists when a court's authority to hear cases is restricted to certain types of claims, such as tax claims or bankruptcy petitions

Appellate Court

A court having jurisdiction to review cases and issues that were originally tried in lower courts

Writ of Certiorari

An order by a higher court directing a lower court to send up a case for review

Rule of Four

a US supreme court prcedure by which 4 justices must vote to grant a petition for review if a case is to come before the full court

Oral Arguments

The verbal arguments presented in person by attorneys to an appellate court. Each attorney presents reasons to the court why the court should rule in her or his client's favor


The statement by a judge or a court of the decision reached in a case. Sets forth the applicable law and details the reasoning on which the ruling was based.


to declare that a court ruling is valid and must stand


to annul or make void a court ruling on account of some error or irregularity


to send a case back to the court that originally heard it

Unanimous Opinion

a court opinion or determination on which all judges agree

Majority Opinion

a court opinion reflecting the views of the majority of the judges

Concurring Opinion

an opinion that agrees with the majority in a Supreme Court ruling but differs on the reasoning

Dissenting Opinion

a seperate opinion in which a judge dissents from the conclusion reache by the majority on the court and expounds his or her own views about the case

Senatorial Courtesy

in federal district court judgeship nominations, a tradition allowing a senator to veto a judicial appointment in his or her state

Judicial Activism

A doctrine holding that the Supreme Court should take an active role by using its powers to check the activities of governmental bodies when those bodies exceed their authority.

Judicial Restraint

a doctrine holding that the supreme court should defer to the decisions made by the elected representatives of the people in the legislative and executive branches

Judicial Implementation

the way in which court decisions are translated into action

Political Question

an issue that a court believes should be decided by the executive or legislative branch

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