Bill of Rights

The first ten amendments to the Constitution that were adopted in 1791.


burden of proof

The duty to prove disputed facts. In civil cases, a plaintiff generally has the burden of proving his or her case. In criminal cases, the government has the burden of proving the defendant's guilt.


case law

Law established by previous decisions of appellate courts.



When a higher court agrees to review the decision of a lower court. If an appellate court grants a writ of certiorari, it agrees to take the appeal.


checks and balances

A system set by the Constitution in which the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government have the power to "check" each other to maintain a “balance” of power.


class action

A lawsuit in which one or more members of a large group, or class, of individuals or other entities sue on behalf of the entire class. The district court must find that the claims of the class members contain questions of law or fact in common before the lawsuit can proceed as a class action.


common law

The legal system that originated in England and is now in use in the United States, which relies on the articulation of legal principles in a historical succession of judicial decisions. Common law principles can be changed by legislation.



An agreement between two or more people that creates an obligation to do or not to do a particular thing.


de facto

Latin, meaning "in fact" or "actually." Something that exists in fact but not as a matter of law.


de jure

Latin, meaning "in law." Something that exists by operation of law.