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US legal system explained

US legal system explainedIf you've watched any American cop dramas, you'll know that the legal system in the US is very different to the UK. Read on to find out more about who makes the laws and who enforces them.

The US legal system has several layers. This is because of the division between

  • federal law (laws which all states must adhere to) and
  • state law (laws which only exist in specific states)

More information about state law

Federal law

When the first 13 US states signed the American constitution, they built in federal law, which overruled state law and was designed to strengthen the federal government.

At the same time, the people who drafted the Constitution didn’t want all that power to rest with a single body, so they divided responsibility for writing and upholding the law among three branches:

  • The Executive branch
  • The Judicial branch
  • Legislative branch

The Executive Branch

This body implements laws and coordinates defence.

The Executive branch is formed of the President, Vice President, Cabinet and other officials.

Laws must be signed by the President to take effect.
If the President rejects a proposed law or bill, he or she can be overridden by a two-thirds majority vote in the Congress.

The Executive branch can negotiate treaties.

The Judicial branch

The Judicial branch is made up of the Supreme Court, the nation’s highest court, the federal district courts and courts of appeal.

Courts set procedures, interpret laws and determine whether laws violate the Constitution.

The Legislative branch

This is Congress. Here responsibilities are divided between the Senate, where each State has equal representations, and the House of Representatives, where the number of representatives per state is based on population.

Congress can enact laws, levy taxes and authorise spending of federal funds.