History of State Courts
Before the constitution, all courts were state courts. Worries grew that federal courts would make state courts irrelevant.
Functions of State Courts
- 1. Conflict resolution
- 2. Policy Making
- 3. Check other branches of government
- 4. Defend Minorities
- 5. Non-judicial functions
Function 1: Conflict Resolution
Done through cases they hear and decide. Parties bring law suits to courts and ask the courts to determine who should prevail. If it’s criminal – guilty or not guilty. If its civil – guilty or not guilty. This allows for a peaceful means of resolution, rather than vigilantes.
Function 2: Policy Making
Tends to be associated with State Supreme Court, as the highest court in the state.
They do this by deciding cases, interpreting state law and the state constitution. Supreme court has the last word on the meaning of state law/constitution. By interpreting state law/const. they can influence the policies state government.
For example: Mass. Supreme Court, interpreted the state const. on marriage, stating the state cannot discriminate against gay marriage.
Function 3: Check other branches of government
This goes back to the authority of the courts to interpret law/const. Court tells governors or legislature they cannot pass a law because it violates the constitution. So they can prevent them from doing things by carrying out their duties of checks.
Function 4: Defend minorities
Typically neglected as they are poorer and don’t vote -- it’s possible for the governor/legislature to ignore their rights
State courts protect under-represented minority groups.
For example: prisoners – “even when someone is in jail, they have certain rights and can only be held under certain conditions.” One example of this is DNA testing for prisoners in jail.
Function 5: Non-judicial functions
Judges may sometimes perform these functions such as sitting on boards or commission
State Court Characteristics
- 1. Independence from public opinion
- 2. Decisions based on past
- Stare Decisis "Let the Decision Stand"
- 3. Formal procedures
- Due Process Rights 4. Rules of Access
- a. Standing
- b. Jurisdiction
- c. Justiciability5. High Qualifications
- 6. Lack of Self Activation
- 7. Decision Required
- 8. Can't Implement Decisions
Independence from public opinion
State judges are expected to act only according to the law and constitution, unlike the governor or legislature
Decisions based on past
Other branches can make abrupt changes from the past, but not judges. The major principle on which _______
Stare Decisis (translates into: “Let the Decision Stand”): when a judge decides a case, he should rely on Precedent: cases which have formally been decided.
There are very strict rules governing how state courts will operate, but these rules are different than other branches – they can never be broken. Courts are expected to follow the rules for judicial procedures.
Due process rights: these formal procedures guarantee the due process rights of the individuals who come before the courts. Due process rights are the equivalent of justice – we do this largely by following the rules. These rules make things fair across the board. For example: Jury Selection – you cannot use race to eliminate /keep people as jury members.
Rules of Access:
It’s more difficult to get access to a judge than other parts of state government. The only way you will get access, is if you’re in the court room with a case to be heard.
- There are three rules for access:
- 1. Standing: Must have a personal stake in outcome of the case, you are directly affected by decision of the case
- 2. Jurisdiction: “Can this court hear this case?”
- 3. Justiciability: “Should this court hear this case?” --in other words, is this a matter for judicial decision? (Example: Malapportionment was found as a “political question” or not appropriate for the courts to decide (lack of justiciability), but instead another form of government to decide.
Judges who serve are required to be qualified.
Texas constitution & others judges are required to meet “high” professional qualification, at least in high levels of court; more rigorous qualification for judges than members of legislature or governor.
Lack of Self Activation:
Courts are not self-starters. The only way a judge can act or issue rulings are when a case is brought before the court.
Once court has accepted a case, a decision is required.
Can’t Implement Decisions:
They can’t enforce their rulings. They have no power or money, and so must rely upon other forms of government to enforce their rulings.
Courts are POLITICAL institutions....list the three reasons why.
1. Policymakers within the state system:
During this process the appellate courts are the ones which provide “sweeping” rulings like gay marriage
2. Interactions with other branches of state government:
They have to convince the governor and legislature to support their decision. Judges must be aware of political realities within the state. They must fall within what the state officials will accept.
3. Judicial Selection:
In Texas, judges are elected – which is a political process. However, even in states where judges are NOT elected, there are still politics involved in the process of the selection.
2. Courts of General Jurisdiction:
- All 50 states have loosely organized their courts around a 3 tier level of state courts.
- 1. Appellate Courts: Most involved in policy making process, they issue the ruling which have major impact on the policy of the state
These are highlighted in shows/movies w/ Judge, Jury, prosecutor…etc.
3. Courts of Limited Jurisdiction:
lowest level of state courts
COURTS OF LIMITED JURISDICTION
* 80% CASES of cases decided by state courts – they are the workhorses of courts
Types of Cases Heard:
1. Minor crimes = “Misdemeanors”: Judges at this level may punish, but not impose jail time if individual is convicted of a crime.
2. Civil Cases = Texas: Suits involving less than $5K
TEXAS has 2 types of Limited Jurisdiction Courts:
1. Municipal Courts = incorporated areas: generally referred to as a town or city, which has its own government, incorporated areas can create municipal courts and judges who serve are appointed to their positions by the local governing body of the particular area. These local governing bodies decide the limits to the judges…etc.
2. Justice of the Peace Courts: Texas state constitution requires there is at least one justice of the peace court, depending on the population; the county can create more than one or up to 8. These judges are elected by the voters within the county for 4-year terms in partisan elections – they run on the basis of their party affiliation.
Weaknesses of Limited Jurisdiction Courts
1. Not courts of record: you do not have an official court reporter typing up proceedings – no record is kept on proceedings. This means that if you decide to appeal, you take your case to the next level: Courts of General Jurisdiction and the appeal is called a De Novo Appeal.
De Novo Appeals: Case must be reheard in the Court of General Jurisdiction. One case is being heard completely twice. This is problematic as it causes an over-loaded caseload for the Courts of General Jurisdiction.
2. Underfunding: State of Texas, for many years, provided no money to these courts, so they were expected to come up with the money to pay their salary through implementing fines and court costs. Recently, Texas has begun to send them money, but still smaller amounts.
3. Lack of Legal Training: in most states, judges at this level are not required to be lawyers. They don’t even need college degree. In Texas, Justice of Peace requirement is to be a registered voter.
North v. Russell: Asked US Supreme Court whether a state could have judges that have no legal training, State Courts said they can have “lay judges” at this level.
4. Lack of Residence: Many of these courts don’t have court rooms and go anywhere they can hold proceedings.
5. Assembly Line Format: Produce a product as quickly as possible, goal is efficiency. In this regard, they want to process cases as quickly and effectively as possible. Not really concerned with individualized justice, they just want to get through the cases.
Trial Courts of General Jurisdiction
- 1. Criminal & Civil Cases
- 2. Appellate Courts
Trial Courts of General Jurisdiction: Criminal & Civil Cases
Civil cases outweigh criminal cases 2:1.
Most criminal cases 90% are nonviolent, many of which are drug cases. These cases begin are decided upon by Limited Jurisdiction courts for the first time; however, appeals go to the next level up: Court of General Jurisdiction (De Nova appeals)
Civil Cases heard:
- 1. Domestic Relations:
- 2. Estate:
- 3. Personal Injury (torts cases): comprise a large amount of the court’s docket. Most involving automobiles.
- Texas =
- 432 Courts of General Jurisdiction: each set up within each jurisdiction, with one judge presiding over each court.
- Election: Judges elected on a partisan ballot for 4-years (same as justice of the peace)
Highest court system in a state.
- Most states have two levels of Appellate Courts:
- (1) Intermediate Appellate Courts
- (39/50 states have this intermediate appellate courts because they serve a major function: relieve the workload of the Court of Last Resort)
- (2) Court of Last Resort.