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You Say State, I say Federal; You say Justice, and I say Judiciary


(And just try saying judicial system without sounding inebriated, a point the wonderful comic Dana Carvey made more than a decade ago.)

I was listening to an Oregon legislative hearing the other day and a legislator commented (quite rightly) on how confusing government is to many people (legislators and the rest of us).

Those of us who live and breathe “government” spend a lot of time helping to educate the public. But we remember well a time when we were confused ourselves — because it is confusing!

Even if you survived grade or high school civics, it can be very hard to make the leap from The Three Branches of Government or How a Bill Becomes a Law to How to Solve a Legal Problem.

I’m not going to repeat all those Civics Lessons here (say goodbye to all my blog readers if I do that!), but I will comment on two of the most common points of confusion for people looking to find answers to legal questions or to solve legal problems:

1) Is the problem based on local, state or federal law?

a) Sometimes this is easy, but sometimes not so much. Take that lowly (and aggravating) traffic ticket. The law you allegedly broke was mostly likely, and in 99.9% of cases, either local or state, but it is truly possible to “make a federal case” out of some traffic stops.

b) If you don’t know which law applies to your question, ask a librarian, and maybe even a law librarian! We have laws, grids, flow and organizational charts, and sometimes even answers.

2) Isn’t the Justice Department the same as the Judiciary?

a) No. The Justice Department, is in the Executive Branch of government (Oregon example), and the other, the Judicary, is the Judicial Branch of government (Oregon example).

b) Or, try this:

1) This is one of those Three Branches of Government questions. Remember the Executive, Legislative, and the Judicial Branches of Government civics lessons?

a) Executive branch: administrative agencies, headed up by the (state) Governor or (federal) President, including the (state or federal) Justice Department (and where you will find the state or federal) Attorney General.

b) Judicial branch: these are the state and federal courts, where judges preside over disputes. (There are also local courts, but we’ll leave that complication for another day.)

c) Legislative branch: think U.S. Congress or your state legislature, e.g. Oregon Legislature. They make the laws that show up in the (federal) U.S. Code or the (state) Oregon Revised Statutes.

End of Lesson! Reward yourself.

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