Judicial review – The power of a court to refuse to enforce a law or government regulation that in the opinion of the judges conflicts with the U.S. Constitution or, in a state court, the state constitution.
Adversary system – A judicial system in which the court of law is a neutral arena where two parties argue their differences.
Criminal law – A law that defines crimes against the public order.
Civil law – A law that governs relationships between individuals and defines their legal rights.
Justiciable dispute – A dispute growing out of an actual case or controversy and that is capable of settlement by legal methods.
Defendant – In a criminal action, the person or party accused of an offense.
Plea bargain – Agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant that the defendant will plead guilty to a lesser offense to avoid having to stand trial for a more serious offense.
Public defender system – Arrangement whereby public officials are hired to provide legal assistance to people accused of crimes who are unable to hire their own attorneys.
Original jurisdiction – The authority of a court to hear a case “in the first instance.”
Appellate jurisdiction – The authority of a court to review decisions made by lower courts.
Court of appeals – A court with appellate jurisdiction that hears appeals from the decisions of lower courts.
Precedent – A decision made by a higher court such as a circuit court of appeals or the Supreme Court that is binding on all other federal courts.
Writ of habeas corpus – A court order requiring explanation to a judge why a prisoner is being held in custody.
Senatorial courtesy – Presidential custom of submitting the names of prospective appointees for approval to senators from the states in which the appointees are to work.
Judicial restraint – Philosophy proposing that judges should interpret the Constitution to reflect what the framers intended and what its words literally say.
Judicial activism – Philosophy proposing that judges should interpret the Constitution to reflect current conditions and values.
Stare decisis – The rule of precedent, whereby a rule or law contained in a judicial decision is commonly viewed as binding on judges whenever the same question is presented.
Writ of certiorari – A formal writ used to bring a case before the Supreme Court.
Docket – The list of potential cases that reach the Supreme Court.
Amicus curiae brief – Literally, a “friend of the court” brief, filed by an individual or organization to present arguments in addition to those presented by the immediate parties to a case.
Opinion of the Court – An explanation of the decision of the Supreme Court or any other appellate court.
Dissenting opinion – An opinion disagreeing with a majority in a Supreme Court ruling.
Concurring opinion – An opinion that agrees with the majority in a Supreme Court ruling but differs on the reasoning.