The Courts in the United States

  • Kenneth M. Holland


In most political communities, courts play a secondary role in governing. John Locke, who helped articulate the separation of powers concept for the modern world, designated the three powers of government as legislative, executive, and federative (‘the power of war and peace, leagues and alliances’).1 He spoke of the judicial function as a part of the legislative one and did not insist upon their separation. For the most part, courts have resolved disputes in accordance with rules made by other institutions. Regarding judges during the colonial period as agents of the tyranny of the British crown, the eighteenth-century authors of the state and federal constitutions envisioned a limited role for courts in the United States. Even the embodiment of the judicial dignity of the new nation, the United States Supreme Court, failed to distinguish itself during its first fifteen years. The first Chief Justice of the United States, John Jay, relinquished his unexalted post to serve as governor of New York in 1795. His successor, Oliver Ellsworth, resigned as chief justice in 1800 to become ambassador to France.2


Criminal Case Federal Court American Political Science Review District Court Appellate Court 
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Copyright information

© Jerold L. Waltman and Kenneth M. Holland 1988

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  • Kenneth M. Holland

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