Judgment that a criminal defendant has not been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Affirmative action (G 122)                                                                                                           

A policy designed to give special attention to or compensatory treatment of members of some previously disadvantaged group.

Appeal (G 364)

A request made after a trial, asking another court (usually the court of appeals) to decide whether the trial was conducted properly. To make such a request is "to appeal" or "to take an appeal." One who appeals is called the appellant.

Appellate (G 359m)

About appeals; an appellate court has the power to review the judgement of another lower court

Appellate jurisdiction (G 362)

The jurisdiction of courts that hear cases brought to them on appeal from lower courts. These courts do not review the factual record, only the legal issues involved. Compare original jurisdiction.

Brown v. Board of Education  (G 113, 228-9, 381-82)

The 1954 Supreme Court decision holding that school segregation in Topeka, Kansas, was inherently unconstitutional because it violated the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection. This case marked the end of legal segregation in the United States. See also Plessy v. Ferguson.

Civil Jury (G 357)

A jury of 12 members or less. To determine liability for harm that has been done or if it can be avoided. Preponderance of the evidence (majority decision). Award of Compensation for damage, an injunction or of something else of value.

Class Action lawsuit

a lawsuit filed by one or more people on behalf of themselves

Concurring opinion (G 377)


A concurring opinion agrees with the decision of the court but offers further comment


Court- packing


The Supreme Court's invalidation of the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the National Recovery Act angered Roosevelt and he attempted to pack the court in his favor. This act called for the president to be able to appoint a new justice, up to a maximum of six, for every justice who had a least 10 years service and was 70 years of age or older. This plan immediately drew immense criticism from all political directions. When the chief sponsor of the bill, Joseph Robinson of Arkansas, died, so to did the bill.


Criminal jury (G 358)


A jury of 12 members to determine if the accused should be punished "by the government ". Guilt must be beyond a reasonable doubt (unanimous).  Jury decides either conviction, acquittal, or hung jury.




In a civil suit, the person complained against; in a criminal case, the person accused of the crime

De jure facto

Latin phrase meaning by the fact of; in fact, whether right or not.

De jure segregation

Latin phrase meaning from the law; by right


District courts (G 361)


The ninety-one federal courts of original jurisdiction. They are the only federal courts in which no trials are held and in which juries may be empaneled. Compare courts of appeal.


Dred Scott v. San(d)ford (G 111, 379 C.W.)


The 1857 Supreme Court decision ruling that a slave who had escaped to a free state enjoyed no rights as a citizen and that Congress had no authority to ban slavery in the territories.


Exclusionary rule (G 107)


The rule that evidence, no matter how incriminating, cannot be introduced into a trial if it was not constitutionally obtained. The rule prohibits use of evidence obtained through unreasonable search and seizure.


Ex post facto Law (G 42)


Congress is prohibited from passing laws that punish persons for deeds committed before the law was passed. To put it another way, if Congress declares something to be illegal in 1997, a person cannot be punished for this illegal act if the act was committed at any time prior to the passage of the law..

Gideon v. Wainwright (G 105)

The criminal Gideon was too poor to afford a defense attorney. This ruled that one has the right to an attorney even if he is unable to pay for. Part of the Sixth Amendment- right to counsel.

Ginsburg, Ruth Bader (D) (G 369)

One of the Eight Associate Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Second Women to be appointed to the court.


Grand jury


A body of citizens who listen to evidence of criminal allegations, which are presented by the government, and determines whether there is probable cause to believe the offense was committed. As it is used in federal criminal cases, "the government" refers to the lawyers of the U.S. attorney's office who are prosecuting the case





A written statement charging a party with the commission of a crime or other offense, drawn up by a prosecuting attorney and found and presented by a grand jury.




An order of the court prohibiting (or compelling) the performance of a specific act to prevent irreparable damage or injury.




An Act of Congress which has been signed by the president or passed over his veto




The publication of false or malicious statements that damage someone's reputation.


Litigation (G 228)


A case, controversy, or lawsuit.




Participants (plaintiffs and defendants) in lawsuits are called litigants.


Mapp v. Ohio (G 106-107)


The 1961 Supreme Court decision ruling that the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures must be extended to the states as well as the federal government. See also exclusionary rule.


Marbury v. Madison (G 42, 56, 378-79)


The 1803 case in which Chief Justice John Marshall and his associates first asserted the right of the Supreme Court to determine the meaning of the American Constitution. The decision established the Court's power of judicial review over acts of Congress, in this case the Judiciary Act of 1789.

Marshall, John (F) (G 378)

Supreme Court justice; born in Prince William (now Fauquier) County, Va. Born in a log cabin, with little formal education, he fought in the American Revolution and studied law briefly (1779--80) before setting up a practice and getting elected to the Virginia legislature (1782). An outspoken advocate of the Federalists' position on the need for a strong central government, he was asked by President George Washington (1795) to be the U.S. attorney general but he declined because of his financial difficulties. Perhaps his most important decision was Marbury v. Madison (1803), in which he laid down the concept of "judicial review"--namely, that federal courts had the final say in deciding whether congressional legislation was constitutional. In various other decisions over the years, he enforced his view of the supremacy of a strong federal government over the demands of states and their legislatures

Marshall, Thurgood (G 370)

Marshall earned an important place in American history on the basis of two accomplishments. First, as legal counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he guided the litigation that destroyed the legal underpinnings of Jim Crow segregation. Second, as an associate justice of the Supreme Court--the nation's first black justice--he crafted a distinctive jurisprudence marked by uncompromising liberalism, unusual attentiveness to practical considerations beyond the formalities of law, and an indefatigable willingness to dissent.


McCulloch v. Maryland (G 39, 65)


An 1819 Supreme Court decision that established the supremacy of the national government over state governments. In deciding this case, Chief Justice John Marshall and his colleagues held that Congress had certain implied powers in addition to the enumerated powers found in the Constitution.


Miranda v. Arizona (G 105-106)


The 1966 Supreme Court decision that sets guidelines for police questioning of accused persons to protect them against self-incrimination and to protect their right to counsel.

Missouri Plan (G 373)

Method of selecting judges that originated in the state of Missouri and subsequently was adopted by other /bcom/eb/article/idxref/0/0,5716,165480,00.html U.S. jurisdictions. It involves the creation of a nominating commission that screens judicial candidates and submits to the appointing authority (such as the governor) a limited number of names of individuals considered to be qualified. The appointing authority chooses from the list, and any one so chosen assumes the judgeship for a probationary period. After this period the judge stands for popular election for a much longer term, not competing against other candidates but basing his candidacy on previous judgments. Under the Missouri Plan, voters decide whether or not to retain the judge in office.

O’Connor, Sandra (R) (G 370,371,375)

One of the Eight Associate justices on the U.S. Supreme court. First Women on the Supreme Court.


Original jurisdiction (G 358)


The jurisdiction of courts that hear a case first, usually in a trial. These are the courts that determine the facts about a case. Compare appellate jurisdiction.]


Pentagon Papers (G 96-97)


In 1971, the N.Y times and the Washington Post obtained copies of the Pentagon Papers- a document that included information on how the U.S. made decisions about its involvement in Vietnam. Nixon’s administration went to court to stop the publication on the belief that it would endanger national security. The court decided that the government can enforce censorship of the press only in circumstances where national security would be at risk.


Plaintiff (G 358)


The person who files the complaint in a civil lawsuit.


Plessy v. Ferguson (G112-113)


An 1896 Supreme court decision that provided a constitutional justification for segregation by ruling that a Louisiana law requiring "equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races" was not unconstitutional.




How a similar case has been decided in the past.


Regents of the University California v. Bakke (G 122)


Following passage of the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights acts, President Johnson came to believe that it was not enough just to remove legal barriers confronting minorities; some form of affirmative action would be needed to help minorities overcome decades of prior discrimination. On September 24, 1965, Johnson issued an executive order requiring federal contractors to take affirmative action to recruit, hire and promote more racial minorities; two years later, in another executive order, Johnson added women to the groups covered by previous antidiscrimination orders. The Supreme Court of California held the special admissions program unlawful, enjoined petitioner from considering the race of any applicant, and ordered Bakke's admission. For the reasons stated in the following opinion, I believe that so much of the judgement of the California court as holds petitioner's special admissions program unlawful and directs that respondent be admitted to the Medical School must be affirmed.


Rehnquist, William (R) (G 375)

Chief justice of the U.S. Supreme court. Appointed by Nixon and made Chief justice by Reagan.


Roe v. Wade (G 109-110)

The 1973 Supreme Court decision holding that a state ban on all abortions was unconstitutional. The decision forbade state control over abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy, permitted states to limit abortions to protect the mother's health in the second trimester, and permitted states to protect the fetus during the third trimester.

Scalia, Antonin (R) (G 370, 375, 382)
One of the eight Associate Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.  First Italian American to be appointed to the court.

Oral defamation, in which someone tells one or more persons an untruth about another, which untruth will harm the reputation of the person defamed.

Souter, David H. (R) (G 370)

One of the eight associate justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.


Stare Decisis


A Latin phrase meaning "let the decision stand." The vast majority of cases reaching the courts are settled on this principle.

Statute (G 357)

A law enacted by legislation at the state or federal levels.


Supreme Court (G 362-364)


The pinnacle of the American judicial system. The Court ensures uniformity in interpreting national laws, resolves conflicts among states, and maintains national supremacy in law. It has both original jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction, but it, unlike other federal courts, controls its own agenda.


Tax Court (G 364)


Established by Congress in 1924 under Article I of the Constitution, the U.S. Tax Court decides controversies between taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service involving underpayment of federal income, gift, and estate taxes.


Thomas, Clarence (R) (G 370 & 375)


One of the eight Associate justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Second African- American to be appointed to the court.


U.S. v. Nixon (G 294)


In November 1972, Richard Nixon won a second term as president, decisively defeating the Democratic candidate, George McGovern. But toward the end of the campaign a group of burglars broke into the Democratic Party campaign headquarters in Washington's Watergate complex. Thanks in large part to the determined investigative reporting of the Washington Post, what had been a small news story soon expanded, as reporters uncovered tracks leading to high government officials. The Nixon administration denied any wrongdoing, but it soon became clear that it had tried to cover up the burglary and connections to it, connections that might even include the president. Under congressional and public pressure, Nixon appointed a special prosecutor. When it was learned that the president had secretly taped conversations in the Oval Office, the prosecutor filed a subpoena to secure tapes he believed relevant to the criminal investigation.

Wesbury v. Sanders

Appellants are qualified voters in Georgia's Fifth Congressional District, the population of which is two to three times greater than that of some other congressional districts in the State. Since there is only one Congressman for each district, appellants claimed debasement of their right to vote resulting from the 1931 Georgia apportionment statute and failure of the legislature to realign that State's congressional districts more nearly to equalize the population of each. They brought this class action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), asking that the apportionment statute be declared invalid and that appellees, the Governor and Secretary of State, be enjoined from conducting elections under it. A three-judge District Court, though recognizing the gross population imbalance of the Fifth District in relation to the other districts, dismissed the complaint for "want of equity."





A written order issued by a court, commanding the party to whom it is addressed to perform or cease performing a specified act.


Writ of habeas corpus (G 42, 108)


This extremely important legal right prohibits a person from being unlawfully held in custody. It is the very foundation of any free society. Persons who are arrested must be able to appear in court so a judge can determine if there are proper and legal grounds for detention. Habeas corpus means you must have the body, that is, the person must appear in court. The only time habeas corpus was suspended in U. S. history was during the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln felt he had to violate the Constitution in order to save the nation. It was one of the most controversial actions of Lincoln's presidency.