Why The American Legal System Is Unique

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I presented this presentation to the Fatih University in Istanbul Turkey. I discussed why the American legal system is unique by giving the history behind our government and laws.


  • 1. Why the American Legal System is Unique Presented byRobert S. Bob Bennett

2. History of the Government and Laws 3. Branches of Government 4. History of the American Legal System

  • The thirteen original colonies had separate charter governments, but instituted customs learned in Great Britain.
  • All colonies had local legislatures, but being dependent colonies, they could not make laws repugnant to those of Parliament.
  • Continental Congress -Declaration of Independence, April 15, 1783.
  • Separate Church and State.

5. American Legal System

  • Common law
    • Severed from the English system by the Revolution
  • Federal law
    • Constitution
  • State law
    • Louisiana exception
  • Local law

6. Moving A Case Through The Supreme Court

  • Petition for writs of certiorari.
  • Original Jurisdiction.
    • when two states have a dispute against each other, or when there is a dispute between the United States and a state.
  • A cert petition is voted on at a session of the Court called a conference. If four Justices vote to grant the petition, the case proceeds to the briefing stage; otherwise, the case ends.
    • Need compelling reasons.
  • Cert Pool.
  • Two-week oral argument sessions each month from October through April. Each side has thirty minutes to present its argument, and during that time the Justices may interrupt the advocate and ask questions.
  • Cases are decided by majority vote of the Justices. It is the Court's practice to issue decisions in all cases argued in a particular Term by the end of that Term.
  • No binding precedent if there is a tie.

7. American Precedent 8. June 21, 1788 U.S. Constitution Is Ratified

  • The Constitutional Convention, meeting in Philadelphia, had produced the charter on Sept. 17, 1787, after four months of debate.
  • John Adams described those sessions as the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen.
  • Opponents of the Constitution were outmaneuvered by promises of amendments to the document. The worlds oldest written constitution still in use today has been altered 18 times, including the package of 10 amendments known as the Bill of Rights, which were ratified as a group in 1791.

9. February 24, 1803 Marbury v. Madison Decided

  • After his defeat by Thomas Jefferson in 1800, President John Adams used his last days in office to secure government posts for fellow Federalists. Among the midnight judges Adams appointed was William Marbury, who was named one of 42 justices of the peace for the newly designated District of Columbia.
  • Though signed and sealed, Marburys commission was never delivered, as required, by Secretary of State John Marshall. For two years Marbury begged, cajoled and finally sued for the commission. By the time he filed for a writ of mandamus at the U.S. Supreme Court, Marshall was chief justice.
  • Instead of protecting a fellow Federalist, Marshall used the case to assert the courts power of judicial review, ruling that while Marbury was entitled to the commission, the provision authorizing the mandamus remedy was unconstitutional.

Marbury Madison 10. March 6, 1819McCulloch v. Maryland

  • The Constitution grants to Congress implied powers for implementing the Constitution's express powers, in order to create a functional national government.
  • State action may not impede valid constitutional exercises of power by the Federal government.

11. March 6, 1857Dred Scott v. Sandford

  • Dred Scott traveled with his owner,Dr. John Emerson, who was in the army andwas often transferred. Scott's extended staywith his master in Illinois, a free state, gavehim the legal standing to make a claim forfreedom, as did his extended stay atFort Snelling, Wisconsin Territorywhere slavery was also prohibited.
  • The United States Supreme Court that ruledthat people of African descent imported intothe United States and held as slaves, or their descendantswhether or not they were slaveswere not legal persons and could never be citizens of the United States, and that the United States Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories.
  • The sons of Peter Blow, Scott's first owner, purchased emancipation for Scott and his family on May 26 1857. Scott died eighteen months later of tuberculosis on November 7, 1858.

12. April 27, 1861 Lincoln Suspends Habeas Corpus

  • After the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter barely five weeks into his presidency, Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for active military duty.
  • On April 19, en route to defend the nations capital, the 6th Massachusetts Regiment was attacked by a mob of 20,000 Southern sympathizers in Baltimore. Four soldiers and 12 civilians were killed, and scores were injured in what marked the Civil Wars first bloodshed.
  • With supply lines disrupted and no additional troops arriving, Washington appeared to be cut off from the rest of the North. Congress was not in session, so Lincoln reluctantly assumed the authority to suspend habeas corpus along the rail route between Philadelphia and Washington.
  • Openly challenged by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, Lincoln justified the action as vital to the nations immediate survival. Putting his case before Congress on July 4, Lincoln asked rhetorically: Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted and the government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated?

13. February 25, 1870 First Black U.S. Senator Is Sworn In

  • Hiram R. Revels was born a free man in 1827 inFayetteville, N.C. An ordained minister, heattended Knox College in Illinois before settling in Baltimore, where he worked as a pastor and school principal.
  • During the Civil War, Revels helped formtwo black Union regiments in Maryland.
  • At wars end, he moved to Natchez, Miss.,and, became an alderman and state senator.
  • In 1870, Revels was elected tofill the U.S. Senate seat vacated nine yearsearlier by Confederate leader Jefferson B. Davis.
  • Sixteen blacks, including one othersenator from Mississippi, Blanche K. Bruce,served in Congress during Reconstruction.
  • Black participation in post-bellum Southern politics all but ended after 1877, whenRepublicans relinquished control of the regionto ensure Rutherford B. Hayes election as president.
  • Not until 1966 would another black, Massachusetts Republican Edward W. Brooke III, be elected to the Senate.

14. May 18, 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson

  • In July 1890, the Louisiana General Assembly passed a law requiring railroads to provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races.
  • A citizens group determined to challenge the act enlisted a 29-year-old shoemaker, Homer Plessy, to initiate the effort.
  • Plessy appeared to be white but was of one-eighth African ancestry, which made him colored under Louisianas one drop racial code.
  • As planned, Plessy declared his race to a conductor; after refusing to move to a railcar reserved for blacks, he was arrested and jailed.
  • Four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Louisianas statute, validating state-sponsored segregation that endured in the South well into the 20th century. In the sole dissent, Justice John Marshall Harlan argued for a color-blind Constitution that neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.

15. August 2, 1921 Baseball's 'Black Sox' Acquitted

  • 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds
  • A year later, grand jury testimony confirmed that several White Sox players, driven by resentment toward tightfisted team owner Charlie Comiskey, had conspired with gamblers to hand the best-of-nine series to the underdog Reds.
  • Eight players were indicted with five gamblers on charges of conspiracy to defraud the public.
  • After a two-week trial marked by the revelation of several missing confessions, all eight were acquitted.
  • In an effort to shore up baseballs credibility, owners persuaded Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a federal judge in Chicago, to become the games first commissioner.
  • Landis banished the eight from baseball, leaving them forever known as the Black Sox.

16. May 25, 1925 Evolution Teacher John Scopes Indicted

  • Known as the Scopes monkey trial.
  • The fledgling American Civil Liberties Union put an ad in a Chattanooga, Tenn., newspaper, offering to support anyone accused under the states new law banning the teaching of evolution.
  • Dayton businessman George Rappelyea saw a chance to put his town (population 1,800) on the map and recruited schoolteacher John Scopes to serve as defendant.
  • Some 3,000 visitors descended on Dayton in July 1925 to see famed defense lawyer Clarence Darrow square off against three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who served as both prosecutor and expert witness on the Bible.
  • Darrow asked the jury to return a guilty verdict so the law could be challenged on appeal, and he got his wish after only nine minutes of deliberation. The state supreme court later reversed the conviction but upheld the law, which remained on the books for 40 years.

17. December 5, 1933 Prohibition Repealed

  • The 1919 ratification of the 18th Amendment, which created a nationwide ban on the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors.
  • The rise of organized crimesyndicates, spurred by aflourishing bootleggingindustry, gave momentum forthe 21st Amendment repealing the noble experiment.
  • December 5, 1933- Utahbecame the 36th state toapprove the 21st Amendmentand Prohibition came to an end.

18. October 8, 1934 Bruno Hauptmann Indicted

  • Charles Lindbergh became a worldwide celebrity after he became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic.
  • The kidnapping of his 20-month-old son, Charles Jr., on March 1, 1932, thus set off a media circus. The babys body was found 10 weeks later a few miles from Lindberghs New Jersey estate; he had died of a head injury likely incurred the night of the abduction.
  • Nearly $14,000 in gold certificatespart of a $50,000 ransomwas found in the garage of the Bronx home of Bruno Hauptmann, a German-born carpenter. A piece of floorboardfrom Hauptmanns attic was alleged to havebeen part of the ladder used in the crime.
  • Found guilty after a six-week trial,he was offered life imprisonment in return for a confession. However, Hauptmannsteadfastly claimed innocence and,on April 3, 1936, was put to death n the electric chair.

19. February 5, 1937 FDR Unveils Court Packing Plan

  • Only weeks into his second term, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took on the U.S. Supreme Court--which had invalidated a series of New Deal programs--by offering a plan to ease the load of the aged, overworked justices, whom critics derided as the nine old men.
  • The plan would have allowed the president to nominate an additional justice whenever one over age 70 did not resign, until the court had 15 members. And it just so happened that six of the nine justices were already over 70.
  • The proposal was roundly denounced, going down to defeat in Congress. But soon the court began upholding New Deal programs, muting calls for its radical restructuring. Seven justices left the bench over the next four and a half years, allowing Roosevelt to remake the court through traditional means.

20. June 14, 1943 Flag Day Reversal

  • Jehovahs Witnesses have been involved in more than 70 Supreme Court cases.
  • InWest Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette , the court overturned a state law compelling schoolchildren to salute the U.S. flag each morning. Jehovahs Witness families had refused, citing their faiths prohibition against the worship of graven images.
  • Announcing the decision on Flag Day during wartime, Justice Robert H. Jackson declared that no patriotic creed should usurp civil liberty: If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion.

21. December 18, 1944 Korematsu Conviction Upheld

  • About two months after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order9066, authorizing the designation of domesticmilitary areas from which anyone deemeda threat could be excluded.
  • By late 1942, more than 110,000Japanese-Americans had been ordered fromtheir West Coast homes and placed in detention camps like Manzanar in California. Bay Areawelder Fred Korematsu, who twice tried to enlist,defied the order. He briefly avoided custody but was arrested, convicted and sent to a Utah camp.
  • Korematsu asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case. In a 6-3 decision, issued the day after plans were announced to end the internment, the court upheld the conviction, arguing that security concerns justified the race-based incarceration. It was later revealed that military officials had exaggerated the domestic threat. Korematsus conviction was vacated in 1984, but the ruling in Korematsu v. U.S. still stands.

22. November 20, 1945 Nuremberg War Crimes Trial Begins

  • An international tribunal was established commissioned to try Germanofficials accused of war crimes andcrimes against humanity.
  • Meticulous Nazi record-keepingprovided much of the evidence againstthe 22 defendants. Official documents,along with wrenching eyewitnesstestimony, opened the worlds eyes tothe horrors of the Holocaust.
  • After 11 months, 12 defendantswere sentenced to death, seven toprison terms ranging from 10 yearsto life, and three were acquitted.
  • Adolf Hitlers No. 2, Hermann Gring,remained unrepentant throughout,and he committed suicide the nightbefore he was to be executed.

23. May 17, 1954 Brown v. Board of Education

  • Warren Court made a unanimous (9-0) decision that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
  • De jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
  • Integration of schools changedPlessysseparate but equal.

24. December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks Sparks the Civil Rights Movement

  • Riding home from work, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., city bus.
  • Civil rights activists had been looking for a case with a sympathetic defendant to challenge segregation laws, and Parks a seamstress and secretary for the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People provided it. Her arrest triggered a yearlong black boycott of Montgomery buses, and Parks became the unofficial mother of the civil rights movement.
  • When Parks died in 2005, she became the first woman to lie in honor in the U.S.Capitol.
  • Her legal legacy is still being written. Herheirs and the executors of her estate arebattling over what constitutes appropriate commercial use of her likeness.

25. March 18, 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright

  • In June 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the felony conviction of a 51-year-old drifter, Clarence Earl Gideon, who had filed a handwritten petition from a Florida prison cell.
  • Gideon, who had an eighth-grade education and four previous felo...