views updated May 21 2018


A judicial tribunal established to administer justice. An entity in the government to which the administration of justice is delegated. In a broader sense, the term may also refer to a legislative assembly; a deliberative body, such as the General Court of Massachusetts, which is its legislature. The words court, judge, or judges, when used in laws, are often synonymous. A kangaroo court is a mock legal proceeding that disregards law and justice by issuing a biased, predetermined judgment regardless of the evidence presented before it.

Judicial courts are created by the government through the enactment of statutes or by constitutional provisions for the purpose of enforcing the law for the public good. They are impartial forums for the resolution of controversies between parties who seek redress from a violation of a legal right. Both civil and criminal matters may be heard in the same court, with different court rules and procedures for each.

The public has a right to attend judicial proceedings. This right ensures that the proceedings will be conducted in a fair and unbiased manner. Anyone who wants may attend trials as a spectator unless a judge has closed a courtroom for particular proceedings in order to maintain order, to assure due process of law, or to protect a witness's identity.

The U.S. Judicial System consists of 52 separate court systems, plus territorial courts, in the United States. Each state and the District of Columbia has its own independent system, and the United States government maintains federal courts throughout the country. The federal courts and state courts are independent of each other. The federal courts are authorized by Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution to hear controversies that especially affect federal interests. Sometimes the existence of two parallel court systems in every state creates a strain and raises important issues concerning federalism, the relationship between the states and the United States. For some of these questions, the supreme court of the united states makes the final determination that is binding on everyone.

Most courts have a multilevel structure. A few states have a two-tiered system, but the federal government and most states use a three-tiered model. All litigants have an opportunity to argue their cases before a trial-level court, and subsequently they may be able to pursue the matter further up through two levels of appeals courts.

In the federal court system the trial-level court is the district court. Each state contains at least one district court, and most of these courts have more than one judge available to try cases. Litigants may file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals that has jurisdiction over that district if they are unhappy with the lower court's decision, and the decision is the type that may be appealed. The United States is divided into 13 judicial circuits, and one court of appeals sits in each of twelve geographical circuits. The Court of Appeals for the Federal District sits in the thirteenth district to hear cases formerly entertained in the Court of Claims and the Court of Customs and Patents Appeals, which were abolished by the enactment of the Federal Courts Improvement Act of 1982 (28 U.S.C.A. § 1 note). Each court of appeals has four or more judges who sit either as panels of three or as a whole to review the decisions of district courts and to review or enforce the orders of many federal. administrative agencies. If a court sits as a whole, it is called an en banc court. Litigants who lose a cause in a court of appeals may be able to carry the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The First Virtual State Court

U.S. courts have adopted various new technologies that can assist in the administration of justice, but the state of Michigan took the most radical step in 2002 when it authorized the creation of the first fully functioning cybercourt in the country. This virtual court, once fully operational, would allow attorneys to file court appearances, briefs, and other court documents online. Specially trained district and circuit judges would serve three-year assignments on this court.

The cybercourt in its first incarnation is to be limited in jurisdiction to business disputes with an amount in controversy exceeding $25,000. The court would not use juries, as it was designed to assist businesses that need quick resolutions of disputes, such as those involving trade secrets. Critics have pointed out that the system would not allow judges to examine evidence physically or even to view evidence with any certainty, given the limitations in viewing screen resolution in many video or real-time communications. In addition, critics contend that many business disputes involve issues of federal law and diversity jurisdiction, thereby denying this court the opportunity to hear many cases.

The Michigan Supreme Court proposed new rules to govern the operation of the cybercourt. These rules addressed: the filing of pleadings and other documents via the internet; the prevention of tampering with electronic documents; how testimony would be given via the Internet, videoconferencing, or interactive video; how serving notice on parties to a lawsuit via e-mail will work; and how court proceedings will be made accessible to the public.

The Michigan cybercourt was supposed to be operational by late 2002 but by mid-2003 it was still on the drawing board. In June 2003 the state legislature debated whether to provide $2 million to establish it in three locations.

further readings

Issenberg, Doug. 2001. "See You in Cybercourt?" Internet World (April 1).

"Michigan Bill Will Create Cybercourt." 2002. Associated Press (January 9). Available online at <> (accessed September 1, 2003).

"Michigan House Battles Over Cybercourt Funding." Michigan Technology News. Available online at <> (accessed July 1, 2003).

"Michigan Wants to Speed Business Dispute Resolution with Cybercourt." 2001. Associated Press (February 23). Available online at <> (accessed September 1, 2003).

Stephens, Gene. 2001. "Trial Run for Virtual Court." Futurist (November-December).

"Website of the Week." 2002. National Law Journal (February 11).

"Wired Future for Courtrooms." 2001. Associated Press (March 1). Available online at <> (accessed September 1, 2003).


Courtroom Television Network; Internet.

Cases in state courts may also proceed from the trial-level court up through appeals in an appellate court and then to a state supreme court. Different systems assign different functions to the state supreme court, which is usually the court of last resort, but this is not the case in every state. When an issue based on the federal Constitution, a treaty, or a federal statute is involved, the U.S. Supreme Court may agree to hear an appeal from the state supreme court.

The organization of a court and its personnel is determined by the law that created that court and by the court's own rules. Generally, the papers for each lawsuit must be filed with the clerk of the court. The clerk and his or her staff organize all of the records for the judges assigned to the court. Each judge may have a law secretary or law clerk, or there may be several clerks who perform legal research and assist in the drafting of decisions, orders, and memoranda. Court officers, court attendants, or bailiffs are available to give information and to maintain order and peace around the courthouse. Interpreters may be kept on call to translate for witnesses and parties who do not speak English well. A county sheriff or federal marshal has the responsibility for enforcement of various judicial orders. probation officers are usually civilian employees who assist the court by administering the probation system for criminal offenders and supervise court-ordered custody or payments of money, especially child support. A court stenographer, or court reporter creates a written record of proceedings word for word.

Attorneys are called officers of the court because they have a dual responsibility to protect the integrity of the legal system and pursue their clients' claims. An attorney who has been admitted to the bar in one state is entitled to practice in the courts of that state but that does not entitle him or her to practice in the courts of another state, in a federal court, or in the Supreme Court. In order to do so, he or she must qualify and be sworn in separately.

A term is the time during which a court is authorized to hear cases, and a session is one of those periods in a term when a judge is actually hearing cases. A regular term is one called for by law, and a special term may be called by a judge or other official when the circumstances warrant it. A jury may hear a case during the jury term while a motion for relief may be made to the court during the motion term. A general term sometimes means the time that all of the judges of a court sit together, or en banc, but occasionally it refers to a single judge's hearing all of the cases on a particular subject.

Laws or court rules fix the particular terms or sessions when a court is open for judicial business. If none is fixed, a court is open at all times. Any judicial action taken by a judge of the court is not invalid in such circumstances because of the time when it was taken, but it does not necessarily mean that the courthouse doors are unlocked 24 hours a day.

Rules of civil procedure and of criminal procedure regulate practice in the courts. The rules spell out rights and the manner of proceeding in regard to a court's jurisdiction and venue, the commencement of an action, parties, motions, subpoenas, pretrial discovery, juries, evidence, the order of a trial, provisional remedies, judgments, and appeals.


views updated Jun 08 2018


Every Renaissance ruler maintained a court. More than just an established residence, the court provided a visible symbol of the ruler's power and splendor. A court was a world within the larger society, governed by its own ceremonies and rules of etiquette, where everyone from the ruler to the servants sought to advance his or her own interests. As settings for the display of wealth and culture, courts were among the most important and colorful centers of Renaissance life.

The court was also a part of the government. The prince might use his courtiers to express his wishes to members of the administration, and courtiers could also bring advice from government leaders to the prince. Some members of the court also served in the administration, making the distinction between court and government unclear.

The Structure of the Court. At the center of each court was a ruler, such as a king, queen, pope, emperor, duke, or duchess. This central figure was commonly identified as a prince. Surrounding the prince was a vast assortment of other individuals, including family members, servants, advisers, government ministers, nobles, artists, writers, entertainers such as jesters and dwarfs, and others seeking patronage*. Members of the court constantly struggled to gain the prince's favor and increase their influence. Many courtiers were female, and the court was one of few places in Renaissance society where women had a real influence in government and politics.

The inner circle of the court consisted of the prince's household—a group of officials, headed by a chamberlain, who tended to the ruler's personal needs. Within the household, the prince could enjoy protection and some degree of privacy. In many cases the consort, or spouse, of the prince maintained a separate household. The extended court formed a much larger group, containing all the councillors and officials under the ruler's direct supervision. This larger court formed the setting for the prince's contact with government officials, citizens, and visiting princes or their representatives. A steward or majordomo saw to the management of the extended court.

Renaissance Courts. During the Renaissance, courts grew more elaborate. In several countries new dynasties, such as the Tudor royal family in England, came to power. These new rulers created splendid courts to draw attention away from their origins. The rise of diplomacy* also contributed to the growth of courts. Princes treated visiting rulers and their agents to magnificent spectacles that underlined the host's power and wealth. Occasions such as the arrival of a visiting prince or a bride for the ruler became lavish ceremonies that brought together artists, architects, musicians, actors, courtiers, and the entire population (as viewers) in a celebration of the state or ruling dynasty. Such spectacles dazzled the common folk and allowed the prince to dictate the behavior of the nobles—an important means of control at a time when central authority was still weak.

The most splendid court of the mid-1400s was that of the duke of Burgundy. Because the duchy* was a scattered patchwork of lands, the court provided a way to bind together groups of unrelated nobles. Elaborate ceremonies ruled every aspect of court life. By 1474 more than 1,000 officeholders, most of whom had their own servants, lived at court at the duke's expense. An English writer compared this glorious setting to the court of the legendary King Arthur.

The most magnificent court in Italy was that of the pope, followed by those of Milan and Naples. Italian courts became centers of artistic patronage, helping many artists gain status and freedom from the control of craft guilds*. Humanist* scholars also found places at court as teachers to young princes and their companions. The small but elegant court of the dukes of Urbino holds a lasting place in history as the subject of Baldassare Castiglione's Book of the Courtier, published in 1528. This book outlined the ideal of courtliness, which included good manners, high morals, and a fine intellect.

Court Life. A complex set of rules, called protocol, governed life at court. They not only dictated the proper behavior for courtiers, but also emphasized differences in rank. For example, most people were required to stand in the presence of the prince. Being allowed to sit was a sign of high favor, jealously observed by others. Throughout Europe, courts set standards for manners. Nobles sent their sons to court as pages* to learn the rules of behavior that set courtiers apart from the rest of society.

Courtiers spent most of their time trying to advance their position with the prince. Every detail of court life had meaning for them. The setting of a guest's reception, the location and quality of assigned lodgings, the seating at banquets—all served as signs of the prince's favor or disfavor. Princes made a point of limiting their personal contact with others to make their favors seem more significant. A private interview in the prince's bedroom or study was the greatest honor.

Maintaining a court was tremendously expensive. Princes constantly tried to hold down their expenses and reduce the number of courtiers entitled to free meals. Many nobles, under pressure to put on grand displays to catch and hold the prince's favor, fell deeply into debt. Lowranking courtiers endured shared rooms, bad food, and the insults of others in return for the chance to advance. The English courtier Sir Walter Raleigh expressed his disgust with the struggle of court life in his poem "The Lie": "Say to the court it glows and shines like rotten wood." Although Renaissance courts dazzled and delighted with their splendor, they also corrupted many with the lure of power.

(See alsoMonarchy; Patronage; Princes and Princedoms. )

* patronage

support or financial sponsorship

* diplomacy

formal relations between nations or states

* duchy

territory ruled by a duke or duchess

* guild

association of craft and trade owners and workers that set standards for and represented the interests of its members

* humanist

referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living

* page

boy or young man who served as an attendant to a noble


views updated Jun 27 2018


A legislative assembly; a deliberative body, such as the General Court of Massachusetts, which is its legislature. An entity in the government to which the administration of justice is delegated.

California Supreme Court is Nation's Most Influential, According to Report

A report published in the University of California, Davis Law Review in December 2007 concluded that the California Supreme Court is the nation's most influential court. The report provides statistical analysis showing that the authors' claim is backed up by numbers that weigh heavily in favor of California's highest court. Critics, though, question the legitimacy of the report due to the positions of its authors.

Legal scholars for several years have engaged in a study known as “citation analysis.” This type of study involves the review of the number of times that authorities have cited to one another in an effort to determine how influential various sources are. The first author to publish reports of citation analysis was John H.

Merryman, a longtime professor at Stanford Law School. He published a report entitled “The Authority of Authority” in Stanford Law Review in 1954, and since that time, dozens of other authors have published their own reports utilizing citation counts. Many studies focus on judicial cases, while others focus on academic articles. The principle behind citation analysis is that the more times that authorities have cited an article or case, the more persuasive that article or case is likely to be.

The primary tool used for citation analysis is Shepard's Citation Service, which has been a tool used by lawyers for more than a century. It is available in print and electronic form. This tool analyzes every published decision filed by the appellate courts of every state and the federal system. Editors of Shepard's analyze an authority's treatment, such as whether a case has been “overruled,” “criticized,” “questioned,” “distinguished,” or “followed.” According to this source, a case has been “followed” when “[t]he citing opinion relies on the case … as controlling or persuasive authority.”

In 2006, the California Supreme Court Historical Society held a panel program entitled “California—Laboratory of Legal Innovation.” In preparation for this program, two lawyers who work with the California court system decided to conduct a study to determine how the legal community could assess or measure the level of a state court's innovation. This led these attorneys to engage in citation analysis of all fifty states. The authors of the study included Jake Dear, Chief Supervising Attorney for the California Supreme Court, and Edward W. Jessen, Reporter of Decisions for California.

Dear and Jessen concluded that their efforts should focus on how many times state court decisions “followed” decisions of the courts of other states. According to these authors, “Our court's library contacted LexisNexis, the current provider of Shepard's Citation Service, and asked if LexisNexis might be willing to undertake a novel and somewhat extensive research assignment: (1) identify all opinions since 1940, for each of the fifty state high courts that Shepard's has designated as having been followed in a published opinion by a state court outside the originating jurisdiction; (2) note the number of times each case has been followed; and (3) provide the raw data for our analysis.”

LexisNexis complied with the authors' request, providing information about nearly 24,400 state high court decisions that were followed at least one time by out-of-state courts. The results showed that with 1,260 such instances, California easily had the highest number of cases that were followed by at least once other state high court. The next two highest courts were Washington (942) and Colorado (848). The three least followed courts were Kentucky (177), Louisiana (242), and South Carolina (261). A somewhat surprising aspect of the study was that several larger states did not rank especially high on the list. For example, Florida (21st, with 508 citations) and Texas (23rd, with 463 citations) ranked far below such smaller states as Kansas (6th), Maine (7th), and Montana (16th).

The report also provided data about the number of times that the states' high court decisions have been cited at least three times as well as the decisions that have been cited five or more times. According to the data, California cases were cited three or more times in 160 instances, dwarfing the number of cases from Washington that were cited three or more times (72). During the period of 1986 to 2005, however, the Washington cases closed the gap in this category. California still leads the nation with 61 such cases, while Washington had 50.

The fact that two employees of the California courts system wrote this report led to criticism of the report's results. Wrote one such critic, “Not to be petty about it, but a report by the chief supervising attorney of the Supreme Court of California and the reporter of decisions of California that concludes—voila!—that California is the most ‘followed’ jurisdiction in the nation is presumptively suspect.” Other critics of citation analysis in general have noted that the practice often relies on the classification given by the attorneys who provide the analysis for Shepard's, stressing that such analysis is an inexact science.

Some judges noted, though, that California has taken the lead in several areas of the law, such as personal injury. The most followed decision of those included in the study was Dillon v. Legg, 441 P.2d 912 (Cal. 1968), which allowed a woman to recover for the emotional distress caused when she witnessed her own child's death.


views updated May 23 2018

court / kôrt/ • n. 1. (also court of law) a tribunal presided over by a judge, judges, or a magistrate in civil and criminal cases: a settlement was reached during the first sitting of the court she will take the matter to court | [as adj.] a court case. ∎  any of various other tribunals, such as military courts. ∎  the place where such a tribunal meets. ∎  (the court) the judge or judges presiding at such a tribunal.2. a quadrangular area, either open or covered, marked out for ball games such as tennis or basketball: an indoor tennis court. ∎  a quadrangular area surrounded by a building or group of buildings. ∎  a subdivision of a building, usually a large hall extending to the ceiling with galleries and staircases.3. the establishment, retinue, and courtiers of a sovereign: the emperor is shown with his court. ∎  a sovereign and his or her councilors, constituting a ruling power: relations between the king and the imperial court. ∎  a sovereign's residence.• v. [tr.] dated be involved with romantically, typically with the intention of marrying: he was courting a girl from the neighboring farm | [intr.] we went to the movies when we were courting. ∎  (of a male bird or other animal) try to attract (a mate). ∎  pay special attention to (someone) in an attempt to win their support or favor: Western politicians courted the leaders of the newly independent states. ∎  go to great lengths to win (favorable attention): he never had to court the approval of the political elite. ∎  risk incurring (misfortune) because of the way one behaves: he has often courted controversy.PHRASES: go to court take legal action.hold courtsee hold1 .in court appearing as a party or an attorney in a court of law.out of court1. before a legal hearing can take place: they are trying to settle the squabble out of court | [as adj.] an out-of-court settlement. 2. treated as impossible or not worthy of consideration: the price would put it out of court for most private court to pay flattering attention to someone in order to win favor.


views updated May 17 2018

court. The institution known as the court has changed its meaning over the centuries. In early medieval times, the court, or household, was the centre of government. The chamberlain and butler performed their personal services for the king but also acted as advisers in broader questions. The monarch, with counsellors and great officers in attendance, would do business, receive petitions, and dispense justice. The king's journeys around the shires enabled some of his subjects to visit him locally, but must have inhibited the social side of court life, since it would not have been easy to accommodate large numbers of unexpected guests: Henry II's movements were notoriously unpredictable. As public business increased, various functions were delegated: much administration was left to the council, and justice to the specialized law courts. But as long as political power remained with the monarch, the division between public and private, government and ceremony, could never be absolute. It has been suggested that, as a result of the ‘Tudor revolution in government’, the court from the 1530s took on a purely ceremonial role. That is premature. All through the Tudor and early Stuart period, careers could be made or broken at court—Wolsey, Leicester, Essex, Rochester, Buckingham. The more routine aspects of government may have been hived off, but the crucial decisions still rested with the monarch and his immediate advisers. But after the Glorious Revolution, as power drained away to Parliament and the cabinet, the importance of the court began to diminish. Charles II's court had been lively, with obliging ladies founding aristocratic families, but money had started to run out. Monarchs also shared with many noblemen the preference for a less public and more domestic home life. By George II's reign, court life was routine and placid, save for a few grand occasions. To some extent this was fortuitous. William III was taciturn, Anne shy, George I inhibited by language difficulties; George II's temper made his receptions distinctly unpredictable, and George III's tastes ran to domestic bliss. Nor could the court any longer afford the patronage that had made Charles I a connoisseur of the arts. Monarchs still wielded considerable influence but in direct consultation with ministers in private or in correspondence rather than through the court. The Edwardian court in the 1900s saw a brief social revival, partly because of the novelty of a visible monarch after Victoria's protracted seclusion, partly because Edward VII enjoyed company. But it was an Indian summer and went down in the trenches of 1917. After the Great War, society did not really recover. There were still people to whom it mattered to be received at court. But to almost all subjects in the late 20th cent. the court meant nothing, politically or socially. Though The Times continued dutifully to print a court circular, it is doubtful whether it was as much read as the sports page.

J. A. Cannon


views updated May 18 2018

court court card a playing card that is a king, queen, or jack of a suit. The term dates from the mid 17th century, and is an alteration of coat card, so named because of the decorative dress of the figures depicted.
court circular a daily report of the activities and public engagements of royal family members, published in some newspapers from the mid 19th century.
court hand a notoriously illegible style of handwriting used in English law courts until banned in 1731.
court martial a judicial court for trying members of the armed services accused of offences against military law.
court of love an institution said to have existed in southern France in the Middle Ages, a tribunal composed of lords and ladies deciding questions of love and gallantry; such an institution in medieval literature.
Court of St James's the British sovereign's court; St James's Palace was the chief royal residence between 1660 and 1837, when Queen Victoria moved to Buckingham Palace. It is currently the official London residence of the Prince of Wales.

See also the ball is in someone's court, a friend at court.


views updated May 14 2018

court (residence of) royal household and retinue; assembly held by a sovereign XII; (place of) assembly of judges, etc.; enclosed area, yard XIII; homage, courtly attention XVI. — AN. curt, OF. cort (mod. cour) :- late L. (Rom.) curt-, earlier co(ho)rt- yard, enclosure, crowd, retinue, COHORT. court-card picture card of a suit. XVII. alt. of †coat card card bearing a ‘coated’ or habited figure (XVI–XVII). court-martial XVII; earlier †martial court. court-plaster stickingplaster for wounds XVIII; so called from being used for the black silk patches worn on the face by ladies at court. court vb. †frequent the court; pay court to, woo. XVI; after OIt. corteare (later corteggiare), OF. courtoyer (later courtiser), f. corte, court. courtier attendant at the court of a sovereign. XIII. ME. courteour — AN. courte(i)our, f. OF. *cortoyeur, f. cortoyer; suffix assim. to -IER. courtly XV; see -LY 1. courtship XVI.


views updated May 18 2018

1. Clear area enclosed by walls or surrounded by buildings, such as a space left for the admission of light and air, an area around a castle keep, a forecourt or cour d'honneur in front of a grand house, a cortile, a Cambridge college quadrangle, or a cloister.

2. Princely or Royal residence (as at Hampton Court Palace).

3. Building where legal tribunals sit.


views updated May 23 2018


the retinue of a sovereign; an organization for the administration of justice; directors, managers, delegates, or courtiers collectively.