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2.8 The Judicial Branch

6 min readfebruary 7, 2023

Akhilesh Shivaramakrishnan

Akhilesh Shivaramakrishnan

Riya Patel

Riya Patel


AP US Government 👩🏾‍⚖️

240 resources
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Introduction

Federalist No. 78, written by Alexander Hamilton, lays out the importance of an independent judiciary in ensuring the protection of individual rights and liberties and preventing abuses of power by the other branches of government. The concept of judicial review, which gives the judiciary the power to review the constitutionality of laws and actions of the legislative and executive branches, was established in the landmark case Marbury v. Madison in 1803 and has become a cornerstone of the U.S. legal system.
By providing a check on the powers of the other branches of government, the judicial branch helps to maintain the separation of powers and the balance of power among the branches of government. This independence and power to review laws and actions helps to ensure that the government operates within the bounds of the Constitution and protects the rights and freedoms of the people.

Key Questions

  • What is the main function of the judicial branch?
  • What is the principle of judicial review and how was it established?
  • What is the role of the judiciary in maintaining the separation of powers and the balance of power among the branches of government?
  • How does the judiciary ensure the protection of individual rights and liberties?
  • What is the relationship between the judicial branch and the other branches of government?
  • What is the importance of an independent judiciary in a democratic system of government?
  • How does the judiciary interpret laws and resolve disputes?
  • What is the role of the Supreme Court in the U.S. legal system?
  • What is the process for appointing judges and justices in the U.S.?
  • How does the judicial branch ensure that the government operates within the bounds of the Constitution?

Key Terms

  • Judicial Branch: The third branch of government in the United States, responsible for interpreting the laws and resolving disputes.
  • Judicial Review: The power of the courts, especially the Supreme Court, to review and potentially invalidate laws and actions of the legislative and executive branches if they are deemed to be unconstitutional.
  • Marbury v. Madison: A landmark case in 1803 in which the Supreme Court established the principle of judicial review in the U.S. legal system.
  • Federalist No. 78: A political essay written by Alexander Hamilton in 1788 outlining the importance of an independent judiciary in a democratic system of government.
  • Separation of Powers: The division of the powers of government among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, each with its own responsibilities, powers, and limitations.
  • Balance of Power: The distribution of power among the branches of government in such a way as to prevent any one branch from having too much power.
  • Constitutionality: The degree to which a law or action complies with the Constitution.
  • Individual Rights and Liberties: The rights and freedoms guaranteed to individuals by the Constitution and protected by the judiciary through the principle of judicial review.
  • Dispute Resolution: The process of resolving conflicts and differences between parties through negotiation, mediation, or the courts.
  • Supreme Court: The highest court in the U.S. legal system, responsible for interpreting the laws and resolving disputes at the federal level.

Judicial Review

Judicial review is the power of the courts, especially the Supreme Court, to review and potentially invalidate laws and actions of the legislative and executive branches if they are deemed to be unconstitutional. This means that the judiciary has the authority to determine the constitutionality of a law or executive action and to declare it null and void if it violates the Constitution.
Judicial review was first established in the United States by the Supreme Court in the landmark case Marbury v. Madison in 1803. Since then, the principle of judicial review has become a cornerstone of the U.S. legal system, providing a check on the powers of the other branches of government and helping to ensure that the government operates within the bounds of the Constitution.
The principle of judicial review allows the judiciary to play a vital role in ensuring that the rights and freedoms of the people are protected, and that the laws and actions of the other branches are consistent with the Constitution. By giving the judiciary the power to review the constitutionality of laws and actions, the U.S. legal system helps to maintain the separation of powers and the balance of power among the branches of government.

Example

An example of judicial review in action is the case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954). In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, as it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This ruling was based on the principle of judicial review, where the Court had the power to review laws and actions of the legislative and executive branches and declare them unconstitutional if they were deemed to conflict with the Constitution. This decision marked a major turning point in the fight for civil rights in the United States and demonstrated the important role of the judiciary in protecting individual rights and liberties.

Structure of the Judicial Branch

The structure of the judicial branch in the United States is set up to provide a fair and impartial system of justice.
The supreme court is the highest court in the land and has the final say in matters of constitutional law. The supreme court is made up of nine justices who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The justices serve for life or until they retire.
Below the supreme court, there are 13 federal appeals courts, 94 federal district courts, and various special courts, such as the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims. These lower federal courts hear cases that arise under federal law, including disputes over federal regulations, contracts, and crimes.
Each state also has its own court system, including a supreme court and lower state courts, which hear cases that arise under state law.
The structure of the judicial branch is designed to ensure that everyone has access to a fair and impartial hearing, and that the laws are interpreted and applied consistently throughout the country. By providing a system of checks and balances and ensuring that the laws are consistent with the Constitution, the judicial branch helps to ensure that the rights and freedoms of the people are protected.

Example

An example of the structure of the judicial branch can be seen in the hierarchy of the federal court system in the United States. It starts with the district courts, which are the trial courts where cases are first heard. Above the district courts are the appeals courts, also known as the circuit courts, which hear appeals from the district courts. The highest court in the federal system is the Supreme Court, which is the final arbiter of legal disputes and has the power of judicial review.
The structure of the judicial branch also includes specialized courts, such as the Tax Court, which deals specifically with tax-related disputes, and the Court of International Trade, which handles trade-related cases. This hierarchical structure ensures that cases are heard by the appropriate court, and allows for appeals to be made to higher courts if necessary. The structure of the judicial branch helps to ensure that the rule of law is maintained and that individual rights and liberties are protected through a fair and impartial system of justice.

Marbury v. Madison and Judicial Review

Marbury v. Madison was a landmark case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1803. The case involved a dispute between William Marbury, who had been appointed as a justice of the peace by outgoing President John Adams, and Secretary of State James Madison, who refused to deliver Marbury's commission. Marbury sued Madison in the Supreme Court, seeking an order (a writ of mandamus) that would require Madison to deliver the commission.
In its decision, the Supreme Court established the principle of judicial review, which gives the judiciary the power to review the constitutionality of laws and acts of the legislative and executive branches. The Court held that the provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that allowed Marbury to sue Madison in the Supreme Court was unconstitutional because it expanded the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court beyond what was authorized by the Constitution.
The Marbury v. Madison decision is considered to be one of the most important decisions in U.S. legal history because it established the principle of judicial review and reinforced the idea of the separation of powers among the three branches of government. The principle of judicial review gives the judiciary the power to ensure that the laws and actions of the other branches are consistent with the Constitution, and it helps to ensure that the government operates within the bounds of the Constitution and protects the rights and freedoms of the people.

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