The United States constitution has separated the powers of the state. The constitution clearly lays out the three different branches of governance: the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. The legislative branch is responsible for making laws. The executive branch of the government is responsible for executing the laws. The judicial branch is responsible for upholding the laws and evaluating them.
Judicial Branch: Explained!
Before democracy and excluding some kingdoms in the past that had a constitution, most regions of the world were ruled by a king, queen or monarch. The method of governance was autocratic, dictatorial or an absolute monarchy. The king, queen, monarch or ruler would make laws, execute them and also evaluate them, thus making changes at the whims and mercies of the sole authoritarian ruler. Modern democracy has no space for absolute power. Hence, the segregation of powers plays the most important role in ensuring freedom and a plethora of other fundamental rights of common people.
It is difficult to study the judicial branch in isolation without first illustrating what the legislative and executive are and what they do. It must be remembered that all the three branches are interrelated, completely connected and are used as a check or balance for one another.
• The legislative comprises of the Senate and the House of Representatives, collectively forming the US Congress. The senate has a hundred members, known as senators. There are four hundred and thirty five representatives forming the lower house or the House of Representatives. The purpose of the legislative or the US Congress is to make laws. Every law that the country has can be changed or done away with by the Congress. New laws have to be made by the legislative alone which should then stand the scrutiny of the judicial branch.
• The executive comprises of the President, the Vice President and the Cabinet. The President or the Vice President don’t have powers to make laws but can take executive decisions based on the laws that bestow certain privileges and responsibilities upon them. The President is the head of government while the Vice President presides over the senate. The Cabinet is picked, nominated or chosen by the President but must have the approval of the Senate.
• The judicial branch is responsible for evaluating laws. It has the power to ensure that laws are exercised as they were meant to be. The judicial branch can strike down laws, recommend amendments to exist laws and can interpret the constitution with all the laws ever made given the context of a legal proceeding. Every law excluding the executive decisions stand scrutiny of the judicial branch.
Judicial Branch: Illustrated!
The judicial branch has a large network of courts. There are federal laws and state laws. The entire judicial branch or the justice system is headed by the Supreme Court. It is the apex court of the country. The Supreme Court has nine judges, also referred to as justices. These judges can also be called chief justices. The nine judges of the Supreme Court are recommended or chosen by the President. These nominations must be approved by the Senate with a minimum of 51 votes.
The Supreme Court is a federal court and doesn’t deal with local cases. It only deals with federal laws and any crime that is beyond the jurisdiction of state laws or lower federal courts and district courts. There are many lower federal courts in the country, known as the United States courts of appeals. These are also known as intermediate federal appellate courts. Then there are the United States district courts. There are 94 federal judicial districts and all have one district court. Additionally, there are three territorial courts. These are general trial courts and the higher courts, including the courts of appeals and the Supreme Court, would only take up cases if the crimes are federal or if either party appeals for a review of the judgment of the lower court.
The judicial branch has many specialized departments and also special courts. There are quasi judicial departments and tribunals as well. For instance, there is the Court of International Trade, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Alien Terrorist Removal Court. There Article I or Article IV tribunals, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, bankruptcy courts, the immigration courts, the Court of Federal Claims and the Tax Court.
The judicial branch of government is completely free from executive and legislative influence. However, the judicial branch can seek the standpoint of the legislative and the executive in matters of national interest, international matters and other issues that require a larger legal perspective than the domestic state and federal laws in the country.
Once appointed, judges cannot be removed at whim. They can retire voluntarily or they would serve till their term is up and they can be promoted. Judges can be removed only by impeachment and new judges can be appointed if a seat has been vacated due to the death of the sitting judge or some other reason.