course logo Basic Legal Concepts:

Law and Courts:

Common Law: The United States legal system is based on the common law system inherited from England, which develops a system of law through the case-by-case decisions of judges. Thus common law is primarily made by judges rather than legislators, is based on precedent (judges make their decsions based on previous rulings in appellate and supreme courts—the higher the level of the court, the more important the precedent), and is not codified (there is no one place where the whole law is written down). The types of law that the judges interpret are called

Civil and Criminal Law:

Dual Court Structure:

Fourteenth Amendment: Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Cornell's Legal Information Institute provides an equal protection overview.

The Equal Protection Clause prohibits state and local governments from unreasonably excluding any class of citizens from the same privileges and protections extended to other citizens. The Supreme Court has identified several standards of review for this clause:

Insights from Zillah R. Eisenstein. “The Engendered Discourse(s) of Liberal Law(s).” The Female Body and the Law. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. 42-78.

Law is a form of discourse, midway between the “real” and the “ideal,” which both constructs and reflects the social and political realm.

Legal notions of equality of men and women are full of tensions and contradictions, particularly those associated with the following two conflicting standards:

Daniel McCarthy <>
Barbara F. McManus <>
HON303/WMS303 Topics, Notes, Assignments
January 2000