Court of Last Resort: Definition & Types

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Marcia Neely

Marcia Neely is a teacher who holds both a MS degree in Reading & Literacy and a Ed Specialist degree in Curriculum & Instruction.

The court of last resort is a legal term that refers to a court of final appeal in a jurisdiction. In simpler terms, it is the court of the highest authority. This lesson will provide an overview of the role, functions, and importance of this court.

Court of Last Resort Background

Have you ever wondered which court has the highest authority in the U.S.? When judges and courts differ in opinions and make decisions that may contradict other court decisions, how is this handled? What happens when one of the parties in a court case firmly believes the decision handed down in his or her case is legally flawed and wants to file an appeal? And how far can one go in having a case reviewed again and again? The court of last resort is a rule-making authority that assists in solving some of these dilemmas. A rule-making authority determines what state or national policy will be when it applies law to specific disputes.

Court of Last Resort Definition

According to 42 USCS § 3791 Title 42; The Public Health and Welfare; Chapter 46 Justice System Improvement, the court of last resort refers to the state court that has the highest and final appellate authority of the state. A court of last resort makes decisions unquestionably, without dispute or competition from any other court or legal authority, and it has supreme jurisdiction.

National vs. State Level Perspective

The court of last resort can be viewed from two perspectives: state and national. On a state level, the court of last resort means that the state court maintains the highest and final legal authority as well as the managing court for each state's judicial system within that particular state. For example, in Florida, the court of last resort is identified as the Florida Supreme Court. On a national level, this court of last resort is the Supreme Court of the U.S. As such, it is the highest court in this country and has unrestricted legal jurisdiction over all federal and state courts. The court of last resort is the highest court that can be petitioned; its ruling is final, and no appeal can be filed against a decision made by that court. It is the last word.

In the U.S. federal court system, district courts are the lowest-level courts. They conduct trials, among other things. Circuit courts are appellate courts. They do not conduct trials. Instead, they rule on appeals and legal/constitutional issues raised by the district courts. Above the circuit courts is the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court rules on legal and constitutional issues raised by the circuit courts.

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