Can the executive branch ever create statutes?

Not exactly but...


1. Congress can delegate rule making authority to government agencies, including agencies that are within the executive branch.  For example, Congress delegates to the Department of Transportation the authority to make certain  types of rules regarding airport and traffic safety.


2. The President of the United States can issue executive orders.  Executive orders tell federal agencies and federal officers to do certain things. Executive orders are often controversial because, as your question suggests, this type of power is normally reserved for the legislative branch.  Courts can review the constitutionality of an executive order. 

I understand that there are 27 Amendments to the US Constitution. How is the Constitution amended?

Article V of the Constitution describes how the Constitution can be amended.  There are two ways.


Method I:    First, 2/3 of the House of Representatives and the Senate must approve the amendment.  Then, 3/4 of the states' legislatures must approve the amendment.  


Method II: 2/3 of the states call for a special convention to propose the amendment.  Then, 3/4 of the states' legislatures must approve the amendment.  This method has never been used.  

Why is the United States Congress divided into two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate?

When the United States was founded, each state wanted to protect its own power.  

Smaller states were afraid of losing power to larger states.  Larger states were afraid that even though their population was larger, they would not be proportionally represented in the legislature.   

A compromise to address these concerns was a legislature with two houses ("bicameral").

Representation in the House of Representatives is based on population.  States with more people have more representatives (for example, New York has close to 30 representatives, New Hampshire has only 2).

Every state has two representatives in the Senate, regardless of population.  In this way, the Senate can check the House of Representatives.  



What happens if someone commits a crime in one state and runs to another?

 Extradition is where one state transfers a defendant to another state to face trial.   The United States Constitution (Article IV Section 2) requires states to extradite persons accused of crime.  There is also federal law requiring extradition.  

Each state has its own rules governing extradition but generally speaking, when one state demands that a second state extradite a defendant,  the defendant must be extradited.  


"I think each state having its own legal system isn't efficient..."/"If I were American I wouldn't want to move because each state has different statutes..."

I received a number of comments that it seems inefficient for different states to have different laws and legal systems.  Here are a few thoughts on this:

1. Many people might agree with you.  If you are taking classes with me (or another US law class) you will learn that many states have adopted uniform laws because advocates wanted to reduce differences between the states.  For example, in connection with business (the Uniform Commercial Code) and criminal law (the Model Penal Code), many states enacted similar codes.  

2. In any event, most laws tend to be fairly similar.  For example, no one could seriously believe that in his home state it would be illegal to start a fire in the lobby of a hotel but that in another state that type of  dangerous activity could possibly be legal.

3. There are some advantages to having different legal systems and statutes in each state.  

First, states can specialize in areas of law particularly relevant to that state.  For example, Delaware has well-developed law regarding corporations.  States in the west or south developed useful law regarding cattle branding.  New York law is not famous for cattle branding (!!)  but New York is recognized for its sophisticated commercial law.  

Second, different states can experiment with different laws and states can learn from each other.  For example, California law regarding torts tends to be ahead of the rest of the United States.  Other states can follow California if they think California's courts and legislature have good ideas.  Different legal systems encourage states to revise their laws based on positive examples from other states.  

Is there a difference between "litigator" and "lawyer"?

A litigator is a type of lawyer.  On television shows most lawyers are litigators.  They are lawyers who represent clients at criminal trials or in private lawsuits (Company A sues Company B or Mr. A sues Mr. B).  Some lawyers might specialize in criminal litigation, others might specialize in business litigation, such as contract disputes.   

When we refer to a lawyer as a "litigator" we are referring to the lawyer's specialty.  There are other kinds of lawyers besides litigators.  Some lawyers specialize in transactional work such as when one company merges with another company.  Other lawyers might specialize in family law, tax, or intellectual property.  Television and movies usually have trials (because trials make good drama) so that is why most lawyers you see on screen are litigators, not transactional specialists.  

Some lawyers have more than one specialty.  A lawyer with a general practice could do litigation 50% of the time and also help people with real estate transactions and estate planning with the remainder of his time.  


I understand how the United States selects federal judges. But how do states select state court judges?

This was a great question about a topic that we did not discuss in class.  The answer - - you might have guessed - - depends on the state.

Some states appoint judges in a manner similar to the federal system.  For example, in New Jersey the governor nominates judges for confirmation by the New Jersey Senate.

In some states voters select judges.  For example, in the state of Illinois voters choose judges through general elections.  But Illinois also has  "associate judges" who are appointed by judges to hear certain types of cases.   

In Missouri and other states  a judicial commission prepares a list of potential judges for the governor to review.  The governor should select a judge from this list.  In some states there is a general election after one-year to determine whether the judge selected by the governor should serve the remainder of his or her term.

New York (where I'm from) has an especially complicated court system.  Our method to appoint judges is a bit tricky, too, and somewhat controversial.  New York's major trial level court of general jurisdiction is called the Supreme Court (remember, this is not the same as the Supreme Court of the United States).   New York's Supreme Court judges are selected by delegates from political parties.  Some people consider this process unfair to potential judges who do not have political connections.   You might find this case interesting.  

In New York a commission nominates intermediate appellate level judges and the governor selects judges from the commission's list. The governor nominates judges to New York's highest court (called the Court of Appeals)  for confirmation by New York's Senate.