Dual System

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.

See Also

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

  1. Definition of Dual System from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Dual System: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Dual System. This part provides references, in relation to Dual System, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Dual System by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Dual System and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Dual System or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Dual System and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Dual System. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Dual System should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Dual System when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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