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037 What does the judicial branch do?

37. What does the judicial branch do?
• Reviews laws
• Explains laws
• Resolves disputes (disagreements)
• Decides if a law goes against the Constitution

The U.S. government has three branches (or parts): the executive branch which makes sure that people follow laws, the legislative branch which makes new laws, and the judicial branch which interprets laws (or decides what the laws mean and how they should be applied). Normally the executive and legislative branches can work together without any trouble. The legislative branch makes new laws and the executive branch enforces them. However, sometimes people don’t agree on what the laws mean. They think the laws are unclear or unconstitutional (or not in agreement with the U.S. Constitution). When that happens, someone needs to be able to say what the law really means and that is exactly what the judicial branch does.

The judicial branch comprises (or is made up of) many courts. A court is a place where legal decisions are made, especially about whether or not someone has
broken a law or what that law really means in the first place. When the Constitution created the judicial branch, it created the Supreme Court, which is the highest and most important court in the country. Since then, Congress has created many lower courts (or less powerful courts) that hear cases (or decide on legal issues) in many special areas. These lower courts include the tax courts, which decide whether or not people and businesses are evading (or not paying) taxes, and the bankruptcy courts, which decide whether people and businesses can declare bankruptcy (or not pay back the money they owe to other people and organizations because they don’t have any money left). The judicial branch needs to have many different courts because there are too many cases to send all of them to the Supreme Court.

The Department of Justice is a very large part of the U.S. government that tries to get justice (or fairness in the law) for all Americans. The Department also tries to prevent and control crime (or things like murders (killings) and theft) to make the United States safer. The Department of Justice is not part of the judicial branch, however. It is part of the executive branch of the national government.


judicial branch – the court system; the part of the U.S. government that decides what the laws mean and determines whether people have done something against the law
* The Supreme Court is part of the judicial branch of the U.S. government.

to interpret – to determine or decide what something means
* Readers have interpreted his poems in many different ways.

unconstitutional – against the Constitution; against the law
* It would be unconstitutional for the U.S. president to make laws alone, without involving Congress.

to comprise – to be made up of; to consist of
* The band comprises a singer, a piano player, and a drummer.

court – a place where legal decisions are made, especially about whether or not something has broken a law, or what that law really means
* The court was filled with people who wanted to hear the judge's decision.

lower court – a court that is less powerful than another court
* Difficult legal questions have to be discussed in the lower courts before they can be discussed in the Supreme Court.

to hear a case – to decide on a legal issue; to hear what both parties have to say about a legal issue and then make a decision about which party is correct
* Today, the judge will hear a case between a person who bought a poor-quality car and the company that made it.

to evade (something) – to avoid something; to find a way to not do something
* Stop evading the question and just tell us the truth!

to declare bankruptcy – to get legal permission to not pay back the money that one owes to other people and organizations because one doesn’t have any money left
* They lost their car, home, jewelry, business, and almost everything else before they declared bankruptcy.

justice – fairness in the law; being fair and reasonable
* People were angry that there wasn't more justice when the murderer was in jail for only two years.