American Judicial Power
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American Judicial Power

The State Court Perspective

Michael Buenger and Paul J. De Muniz

American Judicial Power: The State Court Perspective is a welcome addition to the breadth of studies on the American legal system and provides an accessible and highly illuminating overview of the state courts and their functions.
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Chapter 3: The role of state courts: an historical perspective

Michael Buenger and Paul J. De Muniz


An extensive examination of the history of state courts could fill multiple volumes given the span of time one must cover and the diversity of topics, structures, roles, and institutions to be considered in exploring fifty separate state court systems. Unlike the federal courts that have historically operated under a generally unified structure overseen by the Congress, more recently the United States Judicial Conference, and to a lesser extent the Supreme Court, today’s state courts are remarkably varied in structures, powers, roles, and jurisdictional authorities. Consequently, selecting historical trends and events in the development of state judicial power is, of necessity, an art and not a science. An innovation that developed in one state at one point in time may or may not have been adopted by other states or may have been modified to fit parochial needs. Notwithstanding the challenges of constructing a concise history of the state courts, however, a general historical survey is important in understanding the role these institutions have played and continue to play in defining the core characteristics of American judicial power. An historical perspective is particularly important in understanding two exceptional features of American judicial power that have tended to differentiate it from the exercise of judicial power in many other nations: (1) its highly independent and adaptive character; and (2) its inherently activistic nature.

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