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The US system of the courts

Words and expressions

1. court system

2. authority

3. the federal courts

4. set up

5. coexist

6. fall under the jurisdiction of two different court systems

7. to sue and be sued

8. like a pyramid

9. the highest tribunal

10. apex of the pyramid

11. bottom

12. district courts

13. treaties

14. vast majority of cases

15. state courts

16. courts of minor jurisdiction and major trial courts

The American court system is very complex. Throughout the US there are two judicial systems. One is that of the state and local courts established under the authority of the state government. The other is that of the federal courts, set up under the authority of the Constitution by Congress of the United States. These two systems coexist in the US. And individuals fall under the jurisdiction of two different court systems, their state courts and federal courts. They can sue and be sued in either system depending mostly on what their case is about.

Federal courts are organized like a pyramid with 3 tiers. The apex of the pyramid, the highest tribunal of the US, is the Supreme Court. It has original and appellate jurisdiction. Immediately below Supreme Court stand 12 Courts of Appeals and at the bottom of the judicial pyramid are 95 district courts, which are located in 95 judicial districts into which the fifty states are divided. Federal courts have power to decide only those cases in which the Constitution, federal law and treaties of the US give them authority.

But the vast majority of cases are handled by state courts. The same three levels of courts are recognizable in the state court system as in the federal court system. At the lowest level are the trial courts composed of two divisions: courts of minor jurisdiction and major trial courts. Some of the most populous states have a court of appeals above the trial courts and below the state supreme courts. State supreme courts hear cases of appeal from the lower state courts and in a few instances have original jurisdiction. As is evident, state courts differ from federal courts in organization, in name and in jurisdiction.


Political parties in the USA.

Words and expressions

1. the Democratic party

2. the issues

3. to establish social programs for people in need

4. nuclear weapons

5. military spending

6. the Republican party

7. slavery

8. to support

The Constitution says nothing about political parties, but over time the US has in fact developed a two-party system. The two leading parties are the Democrats and the Republicans.

The Democratic party.

The Democratic Party is the oldest party in the United States. In 1829, Andrew Jackson became the first Democratic President. Since that time, the issues of the nation and the ideas of the party have changed. Both the major parties have liberal and conservative members, but in general people consider the Democrats today more liberal than the Republicans. Democrats often want the government to establish social programs for people in need, such as the poor, the unemployed, and the elderly. They usually say they believe in equal rights for women and minorities, and they oppose nuclear weapons and too much military spending. The symbol of the Democratic Party (from political cartoons) is the donkey.

The Republican Party.

The Republican party, sometimes called the G. O. P. (the Grand Old Party), began in 1854 over the issue of slavery. Republicans opposed slavery. The first Republican candidate to become President was Abraham Lincoln. After the Civil War, Republicans got interested in farm, land, and business issues. In general, Republicans vote more conservatively than Democrats. They want government to support big business but not to control the lives of citizens. They often oppose government spending for social programs but support military spending. The party symbol is the elephant.

Elections in the USA.

Words and expressions

1. American citizen

2. is registered to vote

3. registration procedure

4. two separate campaigns

5. to win

6. to gain a majority of federal votes

Anyone who is an American citizen, at least 18 years of age, and is registered to vote may vote. Each state has the right to determine registration procedures. Americans who want to vote must register, that is put down their names in register before the actual elections take place. There are 50 different registration laws in the US – one set for each state.

An important factor is that there are many more elections in the US at the state and local level that there are in most countries. Certainly, Americans are much more interested in local politics that in those at the federal level.

The national presidential elections really consist of two separate campaigns: one is for the nomination of candidates at national party conventions. The other is to win the actual elections. The nominating race is a competition between members of the same party. They run in a succession of state primaries and caucuses (between March and June). They hope to gain a majority of federal votes for their national party conventions (July, August). The party convention then votes to select the party’s official candidate for the presidency. Then follow several months of presidential campaign by the candidates.

In November of the election year, the votes across the nation go to the polls. In the majority of the popular votes in a state go to the Residential candidate of one party, then that person is supposed to get all of that state’s “electoral votes”. The candidate with the largest number of these electoral votes wins the election. In January of the following year, in join session of Congress, the new President and Vice-President are officially announced.


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