I know the Supreme Court of the United States will hear constitutional matters, but why does United States not have a judicial branch specifically for constitutional matters?
Why does the one country that promotes constitutional democracies above all others not have a judicial branch specifically for those matters? I know SCOTUS will hear these matters . . . I have had it mention that SCOTUS hears less than a hundred cases a year. Something which sounds incredibly low.
A constitutional court profoundly limits the extent to which relief for violations of the constitution are judicially reviewable relative to the U.S. status quo.
All courts from traffic court on up hear these matters and adjudicate constitutional issue in the status quo.
It is also helpful to recognize that the U.S. Constitution regulates government conduct, not necessarily only though the device of determining that legislation is or is not constitutional.
If a police officer stops you without having reasonable suspicion to do so, he has violated the U.S. Constitution, without regard to what the statutes of the state in question say.
If evidence is seized without probable cause and this evidence is introduced in court over your objection in a criminal case, the government has violated the constitution and you are entitled (unless it was harmless error) to have your conviction vacated.
If a tax collector seizes your property for unpaid taxes without first affording you due process to dispute their right to do so, the government has violated one of your constitutional rights.
The Constitution imposes affirmative duties and obligations on the government, it does not merely invalidate laws enacted as unconstitutional.
Most instances of constitutional adjudication involve government conduct and not the validity of government enacted statutes.
Wikipedia says the first constitutional court per se was established in Austria in 1919. So that accounts for why the US didn't have one at its founding: they hadn't been invented yet.
In fact, in the early days of the nation, it wasn't clear whether the Supreme Court, or any other court for that matter, had the authority to rule on the constitutionality of laws ("judicial review"), not even the Supreme Court. The main intended remedy in case Congress passed an unconstitutional bill was that the President should veto it. (And apparently until Andrew Jackson or so, the veto was used mainly for that purpose, and not to kill bills that the President simply didn't support politically.) The power of judicial review by courts was established by the Supreme Court itself in Marbury v. Madison (1803).
If the US had wanted to establish a constitutional court after seeing Austria's, it would have required a constitutional amendment. And if you have studied American political history at all, you will have some idea of how rarely that succeeds. There have only been sixteen amendments since 1800, and only maybe one or two of them enacted any kind of significant change to the structure of government.
Most of the ""Why is the US constitution/way of doing democracy weird compared to other constitutional democracies" comes down to the age of the document/democracy. We're still functioning on a system that was originally created in the 18th century and only went through a few major revisions through amendments in the 18th and 19th century. It is very hard to change the system in place.
Other democracies are much younger and have had the benefit of learning from experience, thus they have set up more modern systems to begin with.
The reason for this is all courts in the U.S. are able to hear constitutional matters and rule on them. Any court at or below the level of the court that makes the ruling is expected to abide by that ruling unless and until a higher court rules differently. The Supreme Court of the United States holds the distinction of being the highest court in the United States, which means that the decision they make cannot be appealed to another court system and must be abided by unless SCOTUS overturns itself or the law/constitution is changed (a few amendments to the constitution, like the 13th, overturn a number of SCOTUS rulings on slavery for example, if only to make them moot because slavery was outlawed).
So a trial court judge can make a ruling on the constitution at the beginning. It might be incorrect, but the appeals courts will handle that and until they say otherwise, that's the interpretation of the constitution that is used for that court system.
Typically, from least to highest level, courts are as follows:
- Court of Original Jurisdiction/Trial Court (State or Federal. If Federal, skip steps 2-4).
- State Appeals Court
- State Appeals Court (En Banc Panel)
- State Supreme Court
- Federal District Appeals Court
- Federal District Appeals Court (En Banc Panel)
- Supreme Court of the United States
Additionally, in the United States, you have a right to one guaranteed appeals hearing (called mandatory review) unless you are a prosecutor (in which case you have very little and rare right to an initial appeal. Prosecutors may appeal the initial appellate court rulings). Everything above a first level appellate court hearing is discretionary review, which means that the courts are not obligated to hear your appeal (if you are rejected, you may appeal to a higher court if one exists, however, the lower court ruling stands.).
The first level of federal appeals is mandatory for cases originating in federal courts, but is discretionary for appeals of state courts (at this point, they'd only be looked at if there is a conflict with the state and federal law).
On a note about "en banc" panels, the en banc panel is a review on the first level appeals court by the appeals, typically a first level appeal will be heard by a panel of three judges of the appeals court, who will make their rulings. The en banc panel is made of a larger group of the appeals court judges, not including the judges who heard the first appeal.
At the federal level, the states are divided into 11 "circuits," and a ruling by any level of the circuit court of appeals is binding on all states in that circuit (so if a case that originates in California is ruled on by the 9th circuit, then it will change the outcome of similar cases in Alaska and courts may remand the cases to lower courts to make a decision because Alaska is also in the 9th circuit).
This means that there are times where some states have different interpretations of the constitution that they must adhere to because their circuit court ruled differently, and still other states may have judges who have to consider both rulings when making a determination and try to find the best of both. When this happens, it's called a "circuit split," and while no case has a guarantee that SCOTUS will hear it, it's a very good chance that SCOTUS will have a strong interest in taking up the case as their ruling will be the final ruling for all states.