AP US Government : Political Role of the Federal Courts

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP US Government

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Political Role Of The Federal Courts

Which Chief Justice has served the longest term in United States history?

Possible Answers:

John Marshall

Roger Taney

William Rehnquist

Earl Warren

John Rutledge

Correct answer:

John Marshall

Explanation:

John Marshall served as Chief Justice from his induction in 1801 until his death in 1835. It is by some margin the longest term of any Chief Justice. Taney is second by several years and then no-one else is within a decade. The Court of Marshall is considered one of the most important term in American history. It was during Marshall’s Court that many of the powers and limits of the Judicial Branch were established. He also laid down many precedents that have affected how the Federal and State governments wield power to this day.

Example Question #2 : Political Role Of The Federal Courts

During the Marshall Court __________.

Possible Answers:

the Civil Rights movement reached its height

the power of the Judiciary and the Federal government was strengthened

the American laws on antitrust were established

the progressive tax was first proposed

the New Deal legislation encouraged by Franklin D. Roosevelt met with a great deal of opposition

Correct answer:

the power of the Judiciary and the Federal government was strengthened

Explanation:

The Marshall Court, chaired by Chief Justice John Marshall, was the first extended Court in American history. It is most noted for greatly increasing the power of the Judiciary and the Federal government. It was during the Marshall Court that the Supreme Court was established as the final determinant on any argument over the powers of the Constitution.

Example Question #3 : Political Role Of The Federal Courts

According to "incorporation doctrine," __________.

Possible Answers:

the Bill of Rights does not apply to state and local governments in the same way that it applies at the Federal level

the Bill of Rights applies to state and local governments as much as it applies to the Federal Government

the Executive Branch cannot declare war without the consent of Congress

the Supreme Court has the right to review Congressional action for constitutionality

the Executive Branch has the sole right to declare war and does not need to consider Congressional acceptance

Correct answer:

the Bill of Rights applies to state and local governments as much as it applies to the Federal Government

Explanation:

The "incorporation doctrine" (also called "selective incorporation") is the belief that the Bill of Rights applies to state and local governments as much as it applies to the Federal Government. Prior to 1925, it was considered that the Bill of Rights did not apply as universally at the state and local level as it did at the national level. In a series of cases since 1925 the Supreme Court has established that the Bill of Rights applies equally to all government institutions and levels.

Example Question #4 : Political Role Of The Federal Courts

Please select the most important function of the Supreme Court.

Possible Answers:

Upholding national legal supremacy

National policymaking

Settling disputes between states

Making sure that national laws are correctly and evenly interpreted

Correct answer:

Upholding national legal supremacy

Explanation:

While the Supreme Court is entrusted with many important responsibilities, the most vital (as revealed through study of the history of Court decisions) is upholding national legal supremacy. The Court has continually reinforced the Constitution’s ultimate status as the supreme law of the nation, often by finding in favor of the federal government in a great deal of cases involving state versus federal disputes. By ensuring the federal government’s legal supremacy, the Constitution is upheld as the final voice on national matters, thus safeguarding the people’s rights, maintaining the balance of power between the three federal branches of government, and making sure that all agents of government (whether state or federal) operate within Constitutional parameters. By upholding national legal supremacy, the Supreme Court is able to carry out all its other important functions, including settling disputes between states, enforcing correct and uniform interpretation of laws, and influencing national policy.

Example Question #5 : Political Role Of The Federal Courts

Which of the following is not one of the methods used by the Framers to insulate federal judges from partisan politics?

Possible Answers:

Federal and Supreme Court judges serve for life (unless convicted for violating “good behavior” standards).

Judges are appointed –rather than elected– to their positions

Congress is not permitted to cut judges’ salaries for any reason

While federal judges must be approved by the Senate, Supreme Court justices are appointed directly by the President, without Senate confirmation

Correct answer:

While federal judges must be approved by the Senate, Supreme Court justices are appointed directly by the President, without Senate confirmation

Explanation:

The Framers took certain measures to insulate federal judges and Supreme Court justices alike from the vagaries of partisan politics. The Framers did not want federal judges to be influenced or pressured into interpreting and applying laws or deciding cases to satisfy the desires of any political entity, even Congress or the President himself. The law was to be supreme, as untouchable and as blind to partisan arguments and party shifts as possible. To this end, Congress is not allowed to cut federal judges’ and Supreme Court justices’ salaries, so that a reduction in pay cannot be threatened in hopes of manipulating a judge’s finding. Additionally, both federal and Supreme Court justices serve for life, so that they cannot be unfairly removed from their positions by partisan motivations. In a similar vein, federal and Supreme Court judges are appointed to their jobs by the President; in this way, no federal judge owes their job to an election or a particular political party. However, as a check on the President’s power of appointment, all federal judges and Supreme Court justices must be approved by a majority of senators; no federal judge, even the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice himself, is immune from this process of confirmation.

Example Question #6 : Political Role Of The Federal Courts

Please select the most controversial issue about both the federal courts and the Supreme Court.

Possible Answers:

Judicial discretion 

Judicial implementation 

Judicial review 

Statutory construction 

Correct answer:

Judicial discretion 

Explanation:

While fiery debate about the proper roles and proceedings of both federal courts and the Supreme Court is not at all uncommon, by far the most controversial topic is judicial discretion. Judicial discretion is otherwise understood as the methodology used by federal justices in interpreting the Constitution, as applied to specific cases. Many people advocate a policy of judicial restraint, in which federal judges do not attempt to make policies through their rulings, preferring simply to follow past precedents as exactly as possible. A similar viewpoint holds that federal judges should interpret the Constitution precisely as the Framers wanted, adhering strictly to the Framers’ original intentions when the document was written – a practice otherwise known as original intent or strict constructionism. Opponents of original intent point out that the Constitution is vague or insufficiently explanatory in many instances, so that both Congress and the federal courts must necessarily step in to help clarify these discrepancies. These same individuals also argue that it is nearly impossible for modern-day judges to figure out what the Framers’ intentions were, especially as these men lived hundreds of years ago, in a much different world, and when these men disagreed among themselves quite often anyway. Proponents of judicial activism believe that federal judges should play a decisive role in policymaking by issuing rulings which correct areas of Constitutional vagueness, interpret new sections of the Constitution that have not yet been touched upon, and which amend injustices ignored by the nation’s majority. This debate is existed since nearly the very beginning of the federal court system’s creation and it shows no signs of dying down or of coming to a decisive resolution anytime soon.

Example Question #7 : Political Role Of The Federal Courts

What is the purpose of having unelected, life-tenured judges, whose salaries cannot be adjusted by Congress (Article III judges)?

Possible Answers:

It insulates the judiciary from the pressures of politics

It prevents citizens from ever receiving a just verdict

It creates an uncontrollable, elite ruling caste

None of these answers are correct

Correct answer:

It insulates the judiciary from the pressures of politics

Explanation:

Although there are myriad purposes for having Article III judges, arguably the most important among them is that they are insulated from the pressures of politics. Put slightly differently, imagine if you had a case before a judge who was elected rather than appointed, and thus had to answer to a constituency. In broad strokes, this may seem ok, but if we fill in the lines slightly it becomes a little more objectionable. Thus, imagine that you, as an individual, were suing, say “Mickey World,” the famous theme park in your town. Mickey World, as a major theme park, employs over half of the city, and is the biggest donor in every election. Imagine further that the judge presiding over your case is up for election the next year. Are you not at least a little suspicious of the judge’s ability to remain impartial in light of the fact that they must stand election, and you are suing the biggest election donor in your entire city? The Founders recognized the impropriety of such a situation and took pains to avoid it through insulating the federal judiciary from politics.

Example Question #8 : Political Role Of The Federal Courts

Diversity jurisdiction serves many purposes. Name one of them.

Possible Answers:

Preventing the defendant from getting “hometowned”

Giving the plaintiff a “second bite at the apple”

Giving the defendant an easier set of evidence rules

Preventing the plaintiff from winning a substantial judgment

Correct answer:

Preventing the defendant from getting “hometowned”

Explanation:

This is an interesting question. The correct answer is “preventing the defendant from getting ‘hometowned’.” (See below if you don’t remember what “diversity jurisdiction” is). At any rate, the reasoning goes something like this: if you’re a “good ole’ Georgia boy” suing a “Yankee” in Coffee Co. Superior Court (for those of you unfamiliar with small counties in Georgia, Coffee County is a very small, very southern county in SE GA) it seems unlikely that the northern defendant is going to get a fair shake! After all, jury pools in state court are drawn from the county in which the plaintiff filed the action. Moreover, many state judges are actually elected—the judiciary in GA, for example, is elected in a “nonpartisan” election.

Diversity jurisdiction solves this dilemma by allowing defendants to remove their case to federal court (provided they meet the criteria) and avoid suffering any local bias. Federal judges are not elected, they are insulated from politics, and the jury pool for district courts is much deeper and broader (that is, less geographically compact) than it is for state courts.

Remember: in order to bring a case to federal court under “diversity jurisdiction” you must meet two requirements: (1) every plaintiff must be diverse (that is a citizen of a different state) from every defendant, and (2) relief sought must be over $75,000.

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