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What is the ultimate goal of judicial law?

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Within the United States, there are three main sources of law – the law of the land (constitutional law and treaties), legislative action, and the common law. So-called judge-made law (likely the idea to which ‘judicial law’ refers) implicates not only the interpretation of the law of the land and legislative action, but also the interpretation and application of the common law.

Within the U.S. legal system, the judicial branch is responsible for interpreting and applying the law. This is a hallmark of the common law tradition. This contrasts with code law (also called civil law, Napoleonic Code or Roman Law) in which the judiciary is only responsible for the application of the law.

This interpretive power of the judiciary comes ultimately from the British common law. Prior to the advent of legislative bodies, the courts of England were charged with enforcing the laws of the monarchy. Over time, the common law developed from the written decisions of these courts as they created and applied legal principles and definitions to the cases that came before them. Interpreting the precedents (prior cases) and applying those to the facts of a given case was the goal of the common law judge.

In the United States, the U.S. common law is still a valid source of law so long as it is not specifically contradicted by legislative laws or the law of the land. Further, the judiciary is able to use common law principles to interpret laws created by the legislative process. Thus, the goal of the modern U.S. common law itself is to fill in the gaps of the other sources of law and give the courts guidance on how to interpret and apply all laws.

Finally, interpreting the law is not confined to the common law or to instances of individual application of particular laws. The power to interpret the law serves as a check on the power of the legislature to enact laws that are not in compliance with the law of the land.  Judicial review and interpretation of the law thus ensure that the law is applied in keeping with the law of the land.

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