25 January 2011

Biden Called to Serve

No one is too important to serve on a jury in the United States. At least that was the message that Vice-President tried send this week when he appeared in a Delaware courthouse after being summoned to serve on a jury. The Los Angeles Times has a nice short piece on what happened when the Veep showed up as well as a nice little anecdote about what happened last year when the President of the United States was summoned to serve on a jury in Chicago.

19 January 2011

More on Racial Preferences

Students in my Race and Equality in America seminar recently engaged in a discussion concerning the controversial topic of Affirmative Action. And wouldn't you know it, a day later Affirmative Action is in the news with the U.S. Court of Appeals' ruling on the University of Texas admission policy, which takes race into consideration as a factor for admission. The Statesman newspaper has more.

14 January 2011

Courts of Appeals in the States

So here is a quick quiz. How many states do NOT have a court appeals in their judicial system?

Students in my introduction to common law courses are by now familiar with the basic structure of court systems in the United States: trial court, appeals court, supreme court. As I mentioned, many states deviate from this basic structure in one way or another. For instance, the highest court in New York is not called Supreme Court but Court of Appeals, while one of the lower courts is called Supreme Court. A bit confusing. Wikipedia has collected a few more differences that exist between state court systems.

But a more substantial deviation from this basic structure is the absence of a Court of Appeals. In these states one finds a trial court and a Supreme Court with nothing in between. In some of these states losers in the trial court have the right to have their appeal heard by the Supreme Court!

The Las Vegas Sun recently published an editorial urging the Nevada Legislature to create a Court of Appeals in Nevada. Because Nevada is a state where one has an appeal as of right to the Supreme Court, the system is inefficient with a bottleneck of cases at the top of the pyramid, at least so argues the Sun.

So back to my question. How many states do not have an intermediate court? The answer: 10! Wow. More on the various differences between the state systems regarding appeals can be found here.

07 January 2011

A Split in the Courts

A nice little review of students in my law classes. The Dallas Morning News has a nice short article today emphasizing the how precedent works in a country like the United States, which has multiple judicial jurisdictions. The article concerns how courts in various parts of the country have dealt with the issue of whether police need a search warrant to search a cellphone. The take-away lines from the article:
A recent California Supreme Court decision says police do not need search warrants to examine the cellphones of those under arrest. But local judges and a deputy chief for the Dallas Police Department say officers should obtain warrants before reading the contents of cellphones. . . . "The safer way would be to get a warrant until the [Texas] Court of Criminal Appeals rules or the [U.S.] Supreme Court rules," said Adams, presiding judge for the felony courts.
Indeed. A case in California has no binding effect on courts in Texas. Only the U.S. Supreme and top court in Texas, in this case the criminal court of appeals, can create binding precedent that lower Texas courts must follow.