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amicus curiae

literally, "friend of the court"; individuals or groups who are not parties to a lawsuit but who seek to assist the Supreme Court in reaching a decision by presenting additional briefs

appellate court

a court that hears the appeals of trial court decisions


written documents in which attorneys explain, using case precedents, why the court should find in favor of their client

chief justice

justice on the Supreme Court who presides over the Court's public sessions

civil law

a system of jurisprudence, including private law and governmental actions, to settle disputes that do not involve criminal penalties

class action suit

a legal action by which a group or class of individuals with common interests can file a suit on behalf of everyone who shares that interest

criminal law

the branch of law that deals with disputes or actions involving criminal penalties (as opposed to civil law); it regulates the conduct of individuals, defines crimes, and provides punishment for criminal acts


the one against whom a complaint is brought in a criminal or civil case

dissenting opinion

a decision written by a justice in the minority in a particular case in which the justice wishes to express his or her reasoning in the case

due process of law

the right of every citizen against arbitrary action by national or state governments

judicial activism

judicial philosophy that posits that the Court should go beyond the words of the Constitution or a statute to consider the broader societal implications of its decisions

judicial restraint

judicial philosophy whose adherents refuse to go beyond the clear words of the Constitution in interpreting its meaning

judicial review

the power of the courts to declare actions of the legislative and executive branches invalid or unconstitutional. The Supreme Court asserted this power in Marbury v. Madison


the sphere of a court's power and authority

Miranda rule

the requirement, articulated by the Supreme Court in Miranda v. Arizona, that persons under arrest must be informed prior to police interrogation of their rights to remain silent and to have the benefit of legal counsel


a criterion used by courts to screen cases that no longer require resolution.


the written explanation of the Supreme Court's decision in a particular case

oral argument

stage in Supreme Court procedure in which attorneys for both sides appear before the Court to present their positions and answer questions posed by justices

original jurisdiction

the authority to initially consider a case. Distinguished from appellate jurisdiction, which is the authority to hear appeals from a lower court's decision

per curiam

decision by an appellate court, without a written opinion, that refuses to review the decision of a lower court; amounts to a reaffirmation of the lower court's opinion


the individual or organization who brings a complaint in court

plea bargains

negotiated agreements in criminal cases in which a defendant agrees to plead guilty in return for the state's agreement to reduce the severity of the criminal charge the defendant is facing


prior cases whose principles are used by judges as the bases for their decisions in present cases

public law

cases involving the actions of public agencies or officials.

senatorial courtesy

the practice whereby the president, before formally nominating a person for a federal judgeship, seeks the indication that senators from the candidate's own state support the nomination

solicitor general

the top government lawyer in all cases before the Supreme Court where the government is a party


the right of an individual or organization to initiate a court case

stare decisis

literally, 'let the decision stand.' The doctrine that a previous decision by a court applies as a precedent in similar cases until that decision is overruled

supremacy clause

Article VI of the Constitution, which states that laws passed by the national government and all treaties are the supreme law of the land and superior to all laws adopted by any state or any subdivision

supreme court

the highest court in a particular state or in the United States. This court primarily serves an appellate function

trial court

the first court to hear a criminal or civil case

Uniform Commercial Code

code used in many states in the area of contract law to reduce interstate differences in judicial decisions

writ of certiorari

decision of at least four of the nine Supreme Court justices to review a decision of a lower court; from the Latin "to make more certain"

writ of habeas corpus

a court order that the individual in custody be brought into court and shown the cause for detention. Habeas corpus is guaranteed by the Constitution and can be suspended only in cases of rebellion or invasion

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