state court

A court in the state judicial system, rather than the federal judicial system, that decides cases involving state law or the state constitution. State courts are often divided according to the dollar amount of the claims they can hear. Depending on the state, small claims, justice, municipal, or city courts usually hear smaller cases, while district, circuit, superior, or county courts (or in New York, supreme court) have jurisdiction over larger cases. State courts may also be divided according to subject matter, such as criminal court, family court, and probate court.

state action

The involvement of a government in a particular activity. Certain constitutional claims prohibit only state action, not private activities. For example, the right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives people a right against laws that restrict their speech, not against private efforts to restrict speech (for example, by a private employer).

special prosecutor

An attorney from outside of the government selected by the Attorney General or Congress to investigate and possibly prosecute a federal government official for wrongdoing in office. The theory behind appointing a special prosecutor is that there is a built-in conflict of interest between the Department of Justice and officials who may have political or governmental connections with that department.

Social Security tax

A portion of the FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) tax that is 12.4% of an individual's net earned income. The employee's share of the Medicare tax is 6.2% of wages up to a certain limit (called the Social Security Wage Base) that increases each year. The employer's share of the Medicare tax is 6.2% of an employee's wages up to that limit.


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