Judicial Function in the United States
The roles performed by the courts in the political system of the United States. Several judicial functions are prominent. The first and most common is dispute resolution. The courts provide a forum for the presentation of arguments and processes by which disputes may either be settled or adjudicated. This function is not only essential for the parties to the suit but generally allows the government to better manage conflict in the society. Second, the courts perform a socialization function. They attempt to influence behavior of individuals by penalizing unacceptable conduct. This is especially evident with criminal penalties, although it occurs in civil situations as well. While deterrence through threat of sanction is more frequent, the courts may also reinforce proper conduct. Third, courts authoritatively distribute benefits and sanctions. Courts render decisions that actually impose punishments of imprisonment or require one party to pay another party large sums of money. These judgments are fully enforceable through the exercise of governmental power. Finally, courts play a role in the shaping of public policy. This is especially true at the appellate level where the courts are required to render interpretive judgments on issues that arise in the application of law.
Analysis and Relevance
Insights into the operations of courts are based on an understanding of the functions of courts and the specific processes designed to perform those tasks. Courts generally exist to facilitate dispute resolution. Many disputes are not actually brought to court but rather are resolved by agreement of the disputants. The courts should, as a consequence, be viewed as but one mode of dispute resolution and a mode of last resort at that. The kinds of issues brought to courts may be categorized as either civil or criminal. Civil disputes generally involve private parties and their relationship to one another. Most civil litigants are individuals or businesses, although the government may also be a party in a civil suit. The judicial function in a civil dispute is to establish or adjust the relationship of the parties. The court may also have to redistribute resources among the parties. In a criminal case, on the other hand, the conflict that requires resolu-tion is between society at large and a misbehaving individual. The court then authoritatively determines the outcome by imposing formal sanctions, such as imprisonment.
Notes and References
- Definition of Judicial Function from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California