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Legal Research Guide for Public Patrons: The U.S. Legal System

The purpose of this LibGuide is to provide legal resources for individuals without any formal legal training.

Structure

Carson-Dellosa Publishing. (2016). Three branches of government.

Like the federal system shown above, the structure of the state system is nearly identical. In place of Congress, state legislatures enact laws in each jurisdiction. The governor of each state enforces those laws, just as the President does. States also have their own court systems, consisting of trial courts, appellate courts, and courts of last resort.

Branches of Government: This government resource explains how each branch of the government operates. There is detailed discussion about the powers and responsibilities of each branch. This is a great place to start to get your footing about how the legal system is structured and operates.

Encyclopedia of U.S. Political History: Although this electronic database contains a lot of information relating to political science, it also contains a multitude of information about the U.S. legal system and various legal resources. Users can learn about the history and powers of Congress, the concept of judicial review, and presidential authority.

Congressional Resources

The Legislative Branch: This government resource provides an overview of the legislative branch in the federal system. This resource discusses the chambers of Congress, the legislative process, and Congressional powers.

How Congress Works: Congress.gov has overview videos (with accompanying transcripts) about the legislative process. For audio-visual learners, these videos are extremely helpful because someone is explaining the process to the user in a thorough yet understandable manner.

Executive Resources

The Executive Branch: This government resource provides an overview of the executive branch in the federal system. This resource discusses the powers of the President and Vice President, the role of the Executive Office of the President, and a summary of the executive agencies that make up the Cabinet.

Truman Library: The Harry S. Truman Library & Museum provides an overview of the executive branch (as well as overviews of the other branches of government). In addition, the Truman Library suggests tasks for the user to become more familiar with these systems. This is an interactive way for users to increase their knowledge about the different branches of government.

Judicial Resources

The Judicial Branch: This government resource provides an overview of the judicial branch in the federal system. This resource described the role of the Supreme Court of the United States, the powers of different federal courts, and the judicial process as it relates to Constitutional Amendments.

Court Role and Structure: This website provides a comparison of state and federal courts. It is important to understand the differences between these two systems because court rules and jurisdictional requirements differ.

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