Dual System in the United States
Refers to the parallel judicial structure located at the federal and state levels. The dual system for courts is an element of the American federalism where authority is divided between the two levels. Generally, the two judicial systems are separate. Each has its own system of courts that performs trial and appellate functions. Once a case begins in either the state or the federal system, it typically remains there. The vast majority of lawsuits are litigated in the state courts. Most criminal prosecutions, domestic matters like divorce actions, and common financial recovery disputes are governed by state law. Federal jurisdiction, on the other hand, is limited to matters involving federal constitutional, statutory, or treaty matters, or cases where the parties are citizens of other countries or different states. Concurrent jurisdiction, which exists for several narrow categories of questions, permits litigants to initiate cases in either federal or state courts. The principal point of linkage between the two court systems is the U.S. Supreme Court. Provided federal jurisdictional requirements are satisfied, decisions of state courts of last resort may be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court (Judicial Organization). Otherwise, the two systems are essentially independent. The administration of the two levels of courts is similarly independent.
Concurrent Jurisdiction (Judicial Organization) Federalism (Judicial Organization) State Supreme Court (Judicial Organization) United States Supreme Court (Judicial Organization) (Judicial Organization).
Analysis and Relevance
The dual court system is a structural manifestation of American federalism. There are two principal consequences of having this dual judicial system. One is that it promotes diverse policies and legal doctrine. While states may have similar constitutional provisions, statutes, and common law traditions, the state courts do not interpret them in exactly the same way. Different local attitudes as well as different social conditions account for some of the variation. Much of the diversity, however, is the product of a nonUnified Court System (U.S.). Second, the dual system also provides strategic alternatives to litigants wishing to bring certain kinds of actions. Where jurisdiction is concurrent, a plaintiff may file the case in the court expected to offer more favorable response. The plaintiff in a civil rights action, for example, might find the federal courts a more favorable forum. At the same time, partisan election disputes that meet federal jurisdiction requirements might be more favorably litigated by the locally dominant party in its own state courts.
Notes and References
- Definition of Dual System from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California