During the 70's and 80's some of these opportunities were eliminated by the actions of the Burger and Rehnquist courts but habeas corpus actions remain a major problem for both systems and our a source of much acrimony. In 1996, Congress amended the federal habeas corpus statute in order to provide some clarification as to how habeas corpus was to be applied and interpreted nationwide.
XI. The Eleventh Amendment and State Sovereign Immunity
Litigation occurring under the 11th Amendment attempts to reconcile two competing ideas: 1) state sovereign immunity which assumes that a state is immune from suit unless it consents to be sued, and 2) the power of the federal government that assumes that the states are subsidiary sovereigns to the federal system. Interpretations of the 11th Amendment have varied throughout the history of decisions on said issue but, presently, are a bar to unconsented suits by private citizens against the states. The Supreme Court, however, has fashioned out a number of exceptions to this bar.
The Federal Courts
The federal court system was established through the enactment of the U.S. Constitution. Under the Constitution only one court was officially authorized, the U. S Supreme Court, but in subsequent legislation Congress enacted the Judiciary Act of 1789 which set up the full system of federal courts which included district and circuit courts of appeal. Because the Constitution set up a republic, the individual states maintain considerable sovereignty and authority. This dual system of power between the states and the federal government causes some problems in the area of the proper application of the law.
The federal judiciary is a totally separate and self-governing branch of the U.S. Government. It has the responsibility of protecting the rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It performs this function by interpreting and deciding the constitutionality of federal laws and resolving disputes that arise as a result of federal legislation. The original framers of the Constitution believed strongly that an independent judiciary was essential to ensuring that the laws of the nation were enforced fairly and equally to all citizens of the United States. Toward this end it was decided that all federal judges would serve for life once appointed unless removed through the process of impeachment. Secondly, the Constitution requires that the compensation of federal judges cannot be diminished during their term in office. This requirement was intended to remove judges from the effects of popular passion and political influence.
Congress' power over the judiciary is limited but still important. First, Congress has the power to define the jurisdiction of all courts beneath the Supreme Court and how many judges will sit in each district. Second, Congress has, through the confirmation process the power to determine who sits on each bench. The President appoints members to the Court but Congress must affirm each appointment. Finally, Congress also controls the budget of each federal court. Although the federal judiciary's budget is minimal when compared with the entire budget, Congress still remains in control of what is allocated.
Under the Constitution there are two types of Courts. The first type was created under Article III of the Constitution and is the type that most citizens recognize. It is in this type of court that most legal decisions that affect ordinary citizens are determined. There is another type of court created under Article I of the Constitution that are created for specialized purposes such as taxes, customs, and military affairs. Appeals from this type of courts, however, can ordinarily be taken to Article III courts.
The federal courts have the jurisdiction to hear a broad range of disputes. Federal district court judges hear both civil and criminal cases, appeals from administrative agencies, matter of law and equity. The trial level courts in the federal system are the district courts. There are 94 different federal judicial districts in the United States. Each district includes a United States bankruptcy court.
Under the federal system, the right for a right to trial by jury in most cases is guaranteed in all serious criminal cases, all civil case that had that right at the time of the American Revolution; and all cases that have been afforded such right by the U.S. Congress.
There are 12 regional circuits with each circuit having its own Court of Appeals. Each circuit hears appeals from the districts that lie within its circuit and the appeals from certain administrative agencies. There is a right of appeal in every federal case in which a district court has entered a final judgment. In order for the jurisdiction of the court of appeals to be invoked one or more of the parties to the litigation must file a timely appeal from the decision of a lower court or administrative agency.
Federal courts are present in every state but the vast majority of cases are heard by the individual state court systems. Most of the state court systems are structured similarly to the federal system but handle a wider variety of cases than the federal courts. For example, the federal courts do not hear cases on matters such as divorce and child custody, probate and inheritance issues, and real estate concerns. The federal courts, on the other hand, decide cases that involve the Unites States government and its officials, the United States Constitution or federal laws, or controversies between the states, or between the United States and foreign governments. Cases may also be heard in the federal courts, even if no federal question is involved, if the litigants are citizens of different states or the dispute arises between citizens of the United States and citizens of another country. Jurisdiction is an important element of cases filed in the federal courts and it is requirement of all filings that the individual filing the action be able to demonstrate the legal basis for the court's jurisdiction. In addition, the court is required to make an independent determination of jurisdiction. If at any point in the litigation jurisdiction is proven to be lacking, the case must be dismissed.
Since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the operation of the federal courts has changed remarkably. In the first several decades the federal court system played only a minor role in the overall operation of the federal government but beginning with the landmark case of Marbury v. Madison wherein the concept of judicial review was established the role of the Supreme Court and the federal courts has expanded. Today, as a result of prior court decisions, Congressional legislation, and the increased application of the 14th Amendment, the reach of the federal courts system has been greatly expanded and its influence on American society is equal to the that of the Executive and…