Some of My Favorite Legal Phrases

Define civil law

If you are a student of the history of law, you probably have a few favorite legal phrases. These legal phrases may have come from law articles or law definitions. Occasionally, they may come from legal notices. Sometimes, they simply come from studying Latin, an important language in legalese. There are a few legal phrases I have found endearing as well. Here are some of my favorite legal phrases.

One of my favorite legal phrases is writ of certiorari. Certiorari is a Latin word that means, “to be seen.” It is used exclusively in the cases of final appellate courts, particularly the U.S. Supreme Court. In essence, a writ of certiorari is a plea to argue a case before the Court. Unlike lower courts, the Supreme Court has a discretionary docket. As such, they prefer to hear only cases that have significant legal and constitutional questions that need to be resolved. A writ of certiorari is a blend of several legal phrases used almost exclusively by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Another of my favorite legal phrases is habeas corpus, or literally, “you may have the body.” A habeas corpus is an initial court hearing to determine if a detention is lawful or not. Started by the English in the 1600s, habeas corpus is meant so that the police do not make unlawful arrests, arbitrary arrests, or arrests without formal charges or a clear sense of evidence. Tellingly, the only time habeas corpus was suspended in the U.S. was during the Civil War, when arbitrary arrests of dissenters and protesters were common.

Finally, one of the legal phrases I hold dear is eminent domain. A backbone of property legal theory, eminent domain suggests that the state has original ownership of all property. Typically, this concept is discussed in terms of curbing eminent domain.

As you study more legal ideas, you may develop legal phrases you hold dear yourself. So do not be afraid to explore more legal ideas. Pick up legal phrases, and become a legal wonk.

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