The United States adopted various legal principles from the Roman Empire. One of the main principles was civil law.
Civil law is the area of law that handles civil private disputes that are not criminal, political, or military-related. Civil laws are enacted through the legislature and enforced by the courts. Unlike common law, civil law is a comprehensive legal structure that organizes laws based on codes and is readily available to the average citizen.
Laws written and passed by a legislative body are known as statutes. Statutory law is the law based on such statutes, rather than on previously determined legal outcomes.
Conversely, criminal law is the area of law concerning the punishment of individuals who commit crimes. It outlaws certain actions that are deemed a threat to public safety and welfare, and establishes penalties for violations of those laws. Both civil and criminal law affect nearly all other fields of law, including: contract law, trust law, tort law, constitutional law, and administrative law.
The establishment of civil law originated from the desire for a simpler, more understandable legal process for average citizens and lawyers. Previously, laws varied by location and were unpredictable. The complexity of the common law system made the law accessible only to legal scholars. Conversely, the civil law system gave legal courts the ability to interpret the law. By freeing the legal system from a rigid set of legal precedents, accused parties could more easily access and understand the law in order to prove their innocence.
The civil law system did not fix all of the problems of the common law system, but it greatly improved the efficiency, predictability, and fairness for all parties.
Brief History of Civil Law and Its Introduction in the United State’s
On June 23, 1846 the United States had officially overtaken California from Mexico with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
After signing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the U.S. respected most prior claims to land; however, there were disbanded claims over large swaths of lands held by rich large land-owning Mexicans. Many lands were vested title to American squatters
Unlike Spanish civil law, while relies on comprehensive codified laws, the common law system uses past legislative decisions based on precedent to determine the outcome of a legal case. Spanish civil law relied on a strict interpretation of preexisting laws. Civil law, on the other hand, allows the court and jury to interpret the law, thereby setting a precedent for future cases. Because the law is dynamic, and is therefore continuously updated to reflect current situations, the U.S. adoption of English common law was a necessary step to ensure legitimacy of legislation and legal interpretations. This unique system of law allows judges, juries, and legal scholars to shape the legal system, rather than relying on a strict, static legal system that makes up the civil law.who had claimed the land. The change in land and title forced the newly created US to alter its legal system in order to rightly answer the claims of land issued by both Mexicans and U.S. citizens alike. The United States disbanded the Spanish civil law and replaced it with English common law.
The change from a civil legal system to a common law system drastically affected the landscape. Landowners were granted new protections and individuals were protected by the courts. Such changes included following laws established by the legislature and using them to interpret a legal outcome in court. One of the main concepts the US adopted from the Spanish civil law system was the idea of community property. Community property is land held by a husband and wife for the purpose of protecting the land. Upon the death of one of the members of the community property, land gets transferred to their spouse. Because life expectancy was significantly lower in the early days of U.S. legal codification, the concept of community property quickly gained great favor in the states.
Within a few short years of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the U.S. discovered gold in Sutter’s Mill in 1848. The discovery of gold solidified the U.S. stronghold on California and validated the advance nature of the United States. What the Mexican, Spanish, and Native Americans could not do in a thousand years, the United States did in a few years by discovering gold. Two years later, in 1850, California officially became a state.
After officially becoming a state, the U.S. was forced to settle claims for private land. Congressional leaders passed a bill in the House, thereby forming the Board of Land Commissioners. The board was tasked with resolving land dispute claims held by citizens of the U.S. and Mexico. The board respected most Mexican land grants prior to the states formation, although quite a few lost lands that was rightfully owned, too. Many of the squatters who used Mexican landowner properties believed that the formation of the U.S. would guarantee their right to possess land previously owned by Mexicans; however, the Supreme Court disagreed, allowing most Mexicans to keep their land.