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What is a Dual Court System and What is its Significance?

What is a Dual Court System?
A dual court system prevents the federal judiciary from becoming too powerful. Buzzle explains the various aspects of a dual court system, such as its definition, history, purpose, and much more.
Akshay Chavan
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Did You Know?
In the dual court system of the United States, the state courts alone handle about 98% of all cases.
In a federal system of government, power is shared between the center and the states. State governments are given the autonomy of making their own laws, provided they adhere to the country's constitution. To make this arrangement work, it is vital that a system of checks and balances be established to provide a degree of autonomy, while at the same time, exercising some control over both, the state and federal governments.

Nowhere is the need for autonomy more pronounced than in the judiciary. The courts are endowed with the sole authority to interpret the laws of the land. So, in case of legal disputes, they have the final word. It is here that the concept of the dual court system finds relevance.

The history of the dual court system can be traced back to the American Revolution, after which state courts were established. When the time came to set up the federal judiciary, consisting of a Supreme Court, circuit, and district courts, the state governments feared that it may interfere in their judicial system. To quell their suspicions, founders of the constitution established a dual court system, where the independence of the state courts was assured.
A dual court system refers to the judicial system of a country, which is divided into two parts - the state and federal judiciary. Each state has its own judicial system which is based on the laws of that state, and decides disputes which arise within its own boundaries. The federal judicial system, on the other hand, is based on upholding the constitution of the country, and there is only one common federal judiciary for the entire country.
In the dual court system, the entire judiciary of the country is divided into two main parts - the state and federal systems. This helps each state administer its own affairs as per its laws, with minimum interference from the federal government. The laws in the constitution of that state are the best suited for the local community. This is why state laws vary considerably from one state to another, in many countries. This arrangement also helps distribute power between the state and federal governments, and keeps the latter from becoming too powerful.

Both, the federal and state judiciaries are then subdivided into three branches - lower courts, appellate courts, and the supreme courts. This arrangement ensures that the maximum number of disputes enter the lower courts, and the litigants have several opportunities to appeal the verdict in a higher court. Higher courts examine how the laws were applied in a judgment of a lower court. Thus, higher courts are kept free of trivial cases, and only a select few are brought to them for hearing.
State Court System

● These judge civil and criminal cases in which state laws are violated, such as robbery, murder, physical assault, etc.
● They judge cases where the state government is a party, such as violations of state tax laws.
● They deal with disputes concerning family, divorce, child custody, and inheritance cases.
● They deal with personal injury disputes, and workers' injury claims.
● They judge cases involving traffic violations and juveniles.
Federal Court System
● It deals with disputes between citizens from different states, where more than $75,000 is involved.
● It deals with cases involving patent infringement and copyright laws.
● It judges disputes involving international corporate laws or foreign treaties.
● Disputes which involve interstate commerce are in their jurisdiction.
● It deals with cases involving federal government schemes, such as social security.
● It deals with disputes involving foreign emissaries.
● It deals with international maritime disputes.
● It tackles cases where the government or its officers are being sued or are suing someone else.
● Cases which involve the interpretation of the federal constitution itself are heard here.
● It deals with cases which involve the civil liberties of citizens.
State Court System
The judiciary of each state is divided into inferior courts of limited jurisdiction, superior courts of general jurisdiction, intermediate courts of appeal, and one supreme court. As the name suggests, inferior courts try small cases, such as those involving traffic violations and petty sums of money. Superior courts have the power to try most civil and criminal cases, such as assault, homicide, and robbery.

The verdicts of both, the inferior and superior courts can be challenged in a court of appeal. This court can either agree with the lower court's decision, change its verdict, or reject the verdict, and send it back to the lower court for reconsideration. The verdict of the appellate courts can be challenged again in the state's supreme court. The supreme court has the power to choose which appeals to allow, which is usually a small number of the total appeals.

Federal Court System
The federal court system is divided into district trial courts, circuit court of appeals, and the country's supreme court. Each state is divided into several districts, the disputes of which are heard in the respective district court. Any federal dispute has to be first judged in this trial court. The entire country is divided into different 'circuits'. Each circuit court hears appeals against verdicts of those district courts which are in its own circuit.

A final appeal against the verdict of the circuit court can be made in the supreme court, which may accept or reject this appeal. The supreme court also has original jurisdiction, which means, it can take up fresh cases for hearing. Cases involving diplomatic immunity or foreign treaties are commonly included under such jurisdiction.
The US Judiciary follows a true dual court system. Both, the state and federal court systems, are divided into two to three levels - lower courts, appellate courts, and a supreme court. Article III of the US Constitution controls the involvement of the federal government in the state court systems. State courts deal with criminal cases, contract laws, and property disputes, while federal courts judge cases involving the constitution, state disputes, and foreign treaties.

In both, the state as well as federal judiciary, verdicts can be appealed in higher courts. The US Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for both the judicial systems. Federal judges are appointed by the president with the approval of the senate. Judges of the state judiciary are appointed by the governor in consultation with the state senate, which may be ratified by voters. To protect them from political interference, judges are given a life term, without any reduction in their pay.

Canada's judicial system is a combination of unitary and dual systems. While the judiciary is divided into state and federal systems, there is a common supreme court for both, which serves as the final court of appeal. The state court system is divided into the provincial courts, superior courts of trial, and superior courts of appeal. Provincial courts deal with small disputes, such as those involving small sums of money. Superior courts of trial deal with more serious criminal offenses, and also has the authority to review a provincial court's verdict.

Superior courts of appeal, as the name suggests, hear appeals against the verdicts passed by the superior court of trial. The less-prominent federal court system includes federal administrative tribunals, federal courts, and finally, a federal court of appeal. These deal with federal statutes, intellectual property, citizenship, and maritime disputes. All judges, except those serving in the provincial courts, are appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the minister of justice.

Australia has a unified legal system, with the state and the federal courts having a common final court of appeal, in the country's high court. The state court system begins with the magistrate courts, which are inferior courts that deal with petty disputes and small civil offenses. These are superseded by district courts, which deal with serious criminal offenses, and also hear appeals on verdicts passed by the magistrate courts. Finally, each state has a supreme court, which hears appeals against the judgments of the district and magistrate courts, and has original jurisdiction in the most serious criminal cases.

The federal court system is divided into the federal magistrate courts, federal courts, and family courts. Federal courts deal with corporations, bankruptcy, copyrights, and industrial disputes, with the federal magistrate court involved in similar, but less-complex cases. Family courts deal with family disputes, divorce settlements, and child custody disputes. Finally, the high court of the country can hear appeals against both, state and federal cases. It also has original jurisdiction in constitutional disputes.

In conclusion, it can be said that a dual court system consists of federal and state courts functioning parallel to each other, with as little interference as possible.