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American Courts: History, Development & The Dual-Court System

American Courts: History, Development & The Dual-Court System
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  • 0:01 Before Federal Courts
  • 0:44 Article III of the…
  • 2:32 Balancing State and…
  • 3:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, you'll consider the history of the court system in the United States and how two distinct parts developed in the early years of the country. You'll learn about debates among legislators and the significant laws they established.

Before Federal Courts

Imagine that you're a legislator living in the United States during the time of the Articles of Confederation, prior to the development of the Constitution. The individual states have their own court systems but there's no Supreme Court. In fact, there's no judiciary branch at the federal level at all. How will you affect the development of the new court system?

In this lesson, you'll consider what factors played a role in the creation of the judiciary branch of the United States government. You'll learn what is meant by a dual-court system and what debates came up as federal courts emerged.

Article III of the Constitution

It's 1787, and it's an exciting time for you as you participate in the United States Constitutional Convention. Your state has sent you to represent them regarding the courts and other issues.

States have already been deciding cases in their own courts prior to the Constitutional Convention. So, if someone stole your money, for example, you would have a process already established in your state for how to handle this. Most criminal cases are the role of state courts (as they still are today); along with probate court dealing with wills and estates; and family law, such as issues of marriage and divorce.

So, what's the problem of having no federal court system? Well, as it stands at the time of the Convention, it's mostly Congress that's running the show on a national level of government by creating the laws. An executive branch of government, including the President, will be added as a result of the Convention. But what about when there are questions of how to interpret the Constitution and federal laws or resolve disputes between states? Who will perform this role? A federal court system will be needed in the new nation for these and other higher-level purposes.

Ultimately, Article III of the Constitution created a federal court with the possibility of creating lower federal district courts as needed. Now the new nation would have both federal courts, including lower-level district courts, and state courts. This is known as the dual-court system of the United States, meaning there are two courts systems - state and federal - that operate at the same time, playing different roles.

Balancing State and Federal Needs

After the Constitutional Convention, your colleagues proceed to argue about the court system. There are those who want more rights for the individual states, rather than a strong federal court. Then there are those who want the federal government to have more authority over the state courts.

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