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5 sources of law:
1. constitutions—STATE and federal, supreme law, the authority for entire legal and political system, specifies the powers of the government
2. statutory law—created by elected officials, written down as codes, referred to as statutes. Typically affect large groups of people, able to anticipate conflicts.
3. administrative law (regulations)—agency created by Congress, law that establishes agency defines its powers. Mostly technical regulation, independent experts, FCC, FTC, FAA
4. common law—“judge-made” law, based on custom and tradition, legal rules develop out of cases, very fact-specific. Not written down anywhere, can be different for each state. Restatement of Torts summarizes common law but is not binding.
5. law of equity—cases that don’t fit under
common law. No jury, just judicial
decrees, less reliance on precedent; restraining orders and injunctions.
Legislative branch: passes laws
Executive branch: enforces laws
Judicial branch: interprets laws
Evolution of a law:
Industry group proposes new lawà member of Congress sponsors (introduces) bill à bill refereed to Committee/Subcommittee à hearings on bill, change language, find compromise à bill may or may not make it out of committee, may also go through more than one committee à voted on by House or Senate (same process in both chambers). If House and Senate versions are different, joint committee works out differences and each chamber votes on new version à signed by President, becomes law.
Judicial branch interprets laws:
Courts rely on precedent, statutory language, and legislative history to interpret laws
All courts have power to say the law or regulation is unconstitutional
Supreme Court does NOT have to hear an appeal—only accepts a few cases
In case of agency regulation: court also decides:
Use of precedent:
Majority and dissenting opinions—the opinion of the court explains the court’s decision. It is considered a majority opinion when the majority of the judges on the panel agree with it. Only a majority opinion creates binding precedent for future cases. Often, one or more judges will write a separate opinion (either agreeing or disagreeing with the court’s verdict). Future courts will often use these opinions for guidance in future cases (but they do not have to).
Court opinions are published in “reporters.” Federal district court opinions are published in the Federal Supplement (F. Supp., F. Supp.2d); federal circuit court opinions are published in the Federal Reporter (F., F.2d, F.3d); Supreme Court opinions are published in the United States Reporter (U.S.) and the Supreme Court Reporter (S.Ct.).
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