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The Politicizing Of American Jurisprudence, Federalism, Separation Of Powers, Hierarchy, Cross-references

The branch of government that is endowed with the authority to interpret and apply the law, adjudicate legal disputes, and otherwise administer justice.

The U.S. judiciary comprises a system of state and federal courts, tribunals, and administrative bodies, as well as the judges and other judicial officials who preside over them.

Every society in human history has confronted the question of how to resolve disputes

among its members. Many early societies chose a private system of revenge for dispute resolution. As civilization gradually evolved, and the system of revenge was perceived as counterproductive to society, communities began designating individuals to resolve disputes in accordance with established norms and customs. These individuals were usually leaders who were expected to exercise their judgment in an impartial manner.

The origins of judicial action, judicial power, and judicial process may be traced to the first communities that relied on neutral third parties to resolve legal disputes. Judicial action is any action taken by a court or other judicial body to interpret, apply, or declare what the law is on a particular issue during a legal proceeding. It is also the action taken by a judicial body to settle a legal dispute by issuing an opinion, order, decree, or judgment. Judicial power is the authority of a court to hear a particular lawsuit or legal dispute, and take judicial action with regard to it. Judicial process is the procedures by which a court takes judicial action or exercises its judicial power.

Ancient Greece, one of the earliest known societies in Western civilization, employed a combination of judicial procedures. Greek rulers, known as arkhons, were empowered to hear a variety of disputes, as was the agora, a group of respected elders in the community. A court known as the Areopagus heard murder cases, and direct retaliation by private citizens was still permitted in many civil disputes. The judicial powers of these institutions were gradually replaced by the Ekklesia, an assembly of six thousand jurors that was divided into smaller panels to hear particular cases.

Juries played an integral role in the development of the English judicial system. As more legal disputes were submitted to juries for resolution, this system became more self-conscious. Concerns were expressed that both judges and juries were rendering biased decisions based on irrelevant and untrustworthy evidence. Litigants complained that trial procedures were haphazard, ARBITRARY, and unfair. Losing parties sought effective remedies to redress erroneous decisions made at the trial court level. Each of these concerns has manifested itself in the modern judicial system of the United States.

The blueprints for the U.S. judiciary were laid out in 1789. During that year the U.S. Constitution was formally adopted by the states. Article III of the Constitution delineates the general structure of the federal judicial system, including the powers and obligations of federal courts. The JUDICIARY ACT OF 1789 (1 Stat. 73 [codified as amended in 28 U.S.C.A.]) fleshes out many details of federal judicial power that were not addressed by the Constitution. The blueprints for the state judicial systems were created similarly by state constitutional and statutory provisions.

The U.S. judicial system has three principal characteristics: it is part of a federalist system of government, it has a specific role under the federal SEPARATION-OF-POWERS doctrine, and it is organized in a hierarchical fashion.


Kozlowski, Mark, and Anthony Lewis. 2003. The Myth of the Imperial Judiciary: Why the Right is Wrong About the Courts. New York: New York Univ. Press.

MacDowell, Douglas M. 1978. The Law in Classical Athens. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

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