Greetings, non-citizens and/or future voters! As you may recall, I recently explained to (at, whatever) foreigners and children how the United States’ political parties work. Since that was a rousing success – mostly because neither of you have command of my language to voice your objections – I’ve been tapped to now explain the three branches of our government.
The three branches are the executive, legislative and judicial branches. These were delineated all the way back in 1789, when a group of self-selected landowners (mostly lawyers) met to secretly and kind of/sort of illegally overhaul our existing government as outlined in the Articles of Confederation. This was the now legal framing of our famed Constitution. Maybe you’ve seen it in your tour through Ron Paul’s breast pocket?
To reflect this spirit of open contempt towards our law of the land, they intentionally set up a lawyer-driven three-way deathmatch between three equal branches. This cage fight is called “checks and balances,” which was based on the use of elbows and fleet footwork in Senate-floor cane brawls.
Because of the amount of information involved, and because every element of our government is ripe for jokes, I’ve divided this into a three part series. Previous installments covered the executive and legislative branches. This week, we wrap the whole shebang up with the judicial branch.
The Judicial Branch
The judicial branch of government is one of the hardest to pronounce and least understood branches because its members are not elected. Instead, they are almost entirely appointed for life by the executive branch so long as Congress approves. Congressional approval can therefore be tricky to navigate if the House and Senate are comprised of a rival party to that of the President. In short, it’s like arranging a marriage, only all of your neighbors — who also have eligible daughters — have a say in the match.
The U.S. judicial branch consists of 210 courts, most of those being the 188 district and bankruptcy courts, one of each being in all 94 federal districts. There are also 11 courts of appeal and a special one for the District of Columbia, and if those fail you, then you might win a dream legal nine-way with the one federal court most Americans can name, the U.S. Supreme Court. Like any orgy, however, the Supremes have to consent to your hot lawyer-on-lawyer action before the sex-fuel carb table is installed.
For the sake of this explanation, let’s say you have a federal court case. You’ve been accused by the F.B.I. for alleged terrorist activities because you joked about “dropping some bombs on Pottystan.”
U.S. District Courts
Your first stop (if not directly to Guantanamo Bay) is one of 94 U.S. District Courts, whichever is either closest to you or the toilet that was threatened. Convenient, eh? Well, it almost wasn’t.
The Constitution doesn’t establish any federal court other than the U.S. Supreme Court. It took Congress to establish all of the lower federal courts that exist today, including specific ones just for
- Demanding repayments from the government (United States Court of Federal Claims)
- International trade and customs laws (United States Court of International Trade)
- Obtaining warrants to monitor foreigners (United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court)
- Disputing federal taxes (United States Tax Court)
And, that was a huge fight over the Judiciary Act of 1789 because, although Article III permits Congress to establish federal courts lower than the Supreme Court, anti-federalists believed that all cases should be settled in state-level courts before going to the one and only federal court. Talk about your classic War on Judges, am I right, federalists?
For today, you’re an American citizen, so you’ll be going to a regular-ass district court. Incidentally, if you’d also like to file for bankruptcy (perhaps due to recently incurred legal fees), your local court for that should be adjacent to where you’ll be tried for terrorism.
U.S. Courts of Appeal
Alright, so things didn’t go so well, and you were convicted by the district court. It’s not the end of the world, because your lawyer should have no problem filing an appeal while you familiarize yourself with life in one of our several federal penitentiaries.
As mentioned before, there are U.S. Courts of Appeal in 11 designated zones and a couple of special ones for veterans’ claims, armed forces cases, patent disputes and to review denials of warrants by the previously mentioned U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. There’s even the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which acts as a lesser Supreme Court by reviewing selected cases concerning decisions and rulings by other government agencies. You know those cases about the FCC fining broadcasters for fleeting profanity? They heard them first.
Once again, you’re nothing special (no matter what your mother claims), so you’ll be going to a regular-ass U.S. Court of Appeal. So, let the truth — and three judges — set you free!
U.S. Supreme Court
Wow. Who would have thought that all three judges use toilets, yet none of them recused themselves from your case? Let’s hope you didn’t burn any bridges in prison because you thought you were out of there.
Still, it’s not over. The U.S. Courts of Appeal hear an estimated 10,000 cases a year, and out of those, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear no more than 100, so you have anywhere from a 1 to 10 percent chance of a final appeal. There were worse odds that people would laugh at your offending potty joke, yet you took them. Your case has to meet one of three conditions:
- It must involve a conflict in the interpretation of a federal law or the Constitution.
- Your previous trials were an egregious departure from accepted court proceedings.
- Your case raises a question of federal law, or the previous courts’ decisions conflict with an established Supreme Court precedent.
The U.S. Supreme Court has settled our nation’s most important legal arguments. They’ve overturned laws enacted by states and Congress alike and even their own previous rulings, effectively ending segregation, sodomy laws and, more recently, discrimination against corporations.
Surely, the nine justices of the Supreme Court will know terrorism when they see it, just like how they decide what is and isn’t pornography. (Ultimately, the Court decided that porn is covered under the First Amendment because they were about to watch a lot of porn before it could be put on the Internet.)
After the Supreme Court
And history has been made. In an historic 8 – 1 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has found you guilty. Only Justice Scalia, who famously loves poop jokes, dissented and wrote a compelling, yet ultimately fruitless opinion that
“Although none smelt it, we have surely and disastrously dealt it. (‘It’ being a fart in the submarine that is the Bill of Rights.)”
So, what now? Your only possibility at redemption is an amendment to the Constitution or a presidential pardon. I’d get writing if I were you.
And that is the judicial branch, which concludes my three-part series to explain the U.S. branches of government to foreigners and children. I hope you read closely because this information could appear in your next citizenship test or social studies class.