law & ethics
Comm 4313


General legal terminology

Ad hoc balancing: A process by which the courts make decisions based on specific facets of the case rather than a generalized analysis.

Affirm: An appeals court's decision to uphold a lower court's ruling.

Amicus brief: A brief submitted to a court from parties not affiliated with the case. Such parties can only submit the brief with the court's permission in their capacity as amicus curiae - friends of the court. 

Common law: Laws that originate from court decisions and are based on custom and precedent.

Concurring opinion: Individual justices may write separate or joint statements in agreement with the majority opinion. 

Dissent: Individual justices who disagree with the majority may write a dissenting opinion discussing alternative applications of the law. 

Gag order: An order by a judge forbidding the publication or discussion of a case in the public or in the media  by those involved in the court proceedings. This is done mostly to avoid influencing the jury pool in order to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial. 

Litigants: Those parties involved in a lawsuit.

Majority opinion: A detailed analysis and discussion of the circumstances of a case, the interpretation of the law as it applies to the case and a final court decision. 

Narrowly tailored laws: These are laws that are crafted in such a specific manner that they restrict only unlawful activity without curtailing free expression. 

Oral arguments: Presentations made to a panel of justices or judges by the counsels for the plaintiffs and defendants.

Over broad laws: Laws that are crafted so broadly that they curtail and restrict more expression than they are supposed to. These laws are generally deemed unconstitutional.

Per curium opinion: An opinion delivered by all the Supreme Court justices as a single concurring unit. 

Precedent: The body of previous court decisions used by sitting courts as a basis for examining ongoing cases.

Remand: An appeals court decision to send a case back to a lower court with further instructions for reexamination . 

Reverse: An appeals court's decision overruling a lower court's decision. 

Vague laws: Laws that are crafted in such a generalized manner that their meaning is unclear either to the courts or the litigants.

View-point based discrimination: Laws that outlaw certain expressions on the basis of the viewpoint expressed while leaving similar expressions lawful. Examples are laws that restrict hate speech but fail to restrict sexism or homophobia. 

Writ of certiorari: A petition requesting an appeals court to retrieve and review a case from a lower court.