The Layers of the American Legal System


The American legal system has several layers that include sources of law, the court system, and government branches. The nation is governed by rules from the federal and state department. These laws have three primary sources: the constitution, statutes, and common law (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). Most of the rights protected by the constitution are found to be crucial to citizens of the country. For example, the rights to freedom which are essential to individuals, are protected by the constitutional laws. The American legal system is unified because it has various organs coordinating to make, interpret and enforce rules.

Main body

Statutes or administrative laws are rules created by the legislative government. The legislature enacts statutes that govern the rights and duties of individuals. The legislature gives other agencies the power to provide regulations and help people identify and clarify the meaning of various statutes (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). These regulations issued are also part of the statutory laws as they help guide individuals on multiple practices. Congress is one of the agencies mandated to make laws that guide the duties and rights of people. The primary sources of statutory laws are, therefore, the state legislature and congress department.

Laws that evolve from decisions made by the court system are referred to as common laws (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). Initially, judges made decisions that would get accepted by society and considered suitable. Through further research or scrutiny, the decisions would either get implemented or modified. Through such processes, the laws got formed and thus finally accepted as laws that govern the country. These laws would be used based on their similarities in previous cases; hence, precedence was significant when passing judgments (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). Common law originated from England, but the American system accepted it, replacing some of its rules.

There are other types of laws that govern various people in the country. For instance, local laws are made for people who reside and work in a given area. The rules might differ in the different counties, municipalities, or cities. Some local laws include rent laws, zoning, and local safety (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). These laws are formed by the different areas’ local governments and are meant for the people in the given location.

As much as the different sources of law seem independent, the arms of the government are of significant influence to them. There are three branches of the government, namely legislative, executive, and judiciary. Each component has a given role and importance in the American legal system. The legislative arm of the government includes the senate and house of representatives (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). Congress, which is part of the legislature, has limited powers of making laws. The citizens, through the constitution, decide which rules can be made by congress. Additionally, each branch gets to be on a check. Hence, one cannot misuse their power or stay unaccountable for any wrongdoing (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). For instance, the legislature can impeach the president who is in the executive branch. Through this step, the government gets to ensure the legal system is functional.

The executive is a branch that enforces the laws made in the country. The executive comprises the president, vice president, cabinet, executive departments, boards, and agencies that run independently (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). The president has the mandate of leading the country, while the vice president serves as an assistant. The cabinet, on the other hand, is a significant advisor to the president. The heads of executive departments and other officials are part of the cabinet (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). This arm of the government serves as a check to the other two branches. For instance, the president can pardon some of the members put in jail by the judiciary.

The judiciary branch is essential in interpreting laws and ensuring they are not violated. The constitution mandates the powers given to the judiciary department. Since the departments work together, the legislature may have varying thoughts about how the judiciary interprets a given law (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). In such cases, the legislature gets to review and amend the law to provide more clarity. Similarly, a judge can invalidate a law passed by the parliament if it does not give constitutional requirements. Through these processes, the two branches get to ensure law and power are maintained in the branches.

A court system is an essential tool in the American legal system. Through the court system, laws are easily enforced and interpreted. The courts also make laws in other areas not covered by the statutes while also invalidating unconstitutional statutes (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). The federal and state are the primary court systems in America. Each system has a different set of laws and courts used for governance. The state court system additionally has a unique set of rules and courts in the various states.

The federal courts are limited by jurisdiction and can only solve disputes involving the American constitution, federal statutes, and regulations. However, there are times when both the federal and state courts can solve cases. For instance, diversity of jurisdiction may enable the federal courts to solve issues meant for the state department (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). Criminal prosecutions get presented at these courts by the government. The president selects the federal judges, who then get confirmed by the senate. During misconduct, the judges may be impeached by the conviction of the senate. The three primary levels of the federal courts are the trial-level courts, the first level of appeal: the circuits, and ultimately the supreme court.

The state courts have varying laws and court systems depending on the given states. The judges in these courts have the jurisdiction to solve cases within their states without impacting other states. The issues solved in a given state are essential precedence for future claims within the same jurisdiction. The primary levels of these courts are the trial-level courts, state appellate, and the state supreme courts (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). The trial-level courts function at the county level and solve criminal and civil cases. Criminal cases revolve around violent and non-violent crimes, while civil cases involve property, contracts, and other personal well-being disputes. The appellate cases handle appeals from the trial courts (Friedman & Hayden, 2017). This court can reverse or let the verdict given at the trial level or superior courts remain intact. The supreme court is the final appeal that offers the last resort to the state.


In conclusion, the American legal system is comprised of various departments that are in coordination. The primary sources of law include the constitution, statutes, and common laws. The executive, legislature, and judiciary are arms of the government. These branches combine efforts as part of the legal system. The three departments coordinate to keep the system in check. Through the courts, the law gets to be enforced and interpreted in the country. The central court systems are federal and state courts that subsequently have different levels, making it easier to enforce the law.


Friedman, L. M., & Hayden, G. M. (2017). American law: An introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

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