Similarly, where a lower court has made a discretionary ruling (such as whether to allow a party claiming a hardship to file a brief after the deadline), that decision will be reviewed for abuse of discretion. It will not be reversed unless the decision is unreasonable.
The second standard of review is the "clearly erroneous" standard. Where a lower court makes a finding of fact, it will be reviewed for clear error. It will not be reversed unless the lower court has made a decision that has its basis in a clearly erroneous understanding of the facts. For example, if a court finds that the defendant was standing 30 feet from the curb, the appeals courts will not reverse this finding unless it is obviously in contradiction to the clear and undisputed facts.
The third standard of review is de novo - as if the reviewing court were considering the question for the first time. Legal decisions of a lower court on questions of law are reviewed using this standard. This is also called the "legal error" standard. It allows the appeals court to substitute its own judgment about whether the lower court correctly applied the law.
Judicial review, although making use of the term "standards of review," is different in nature from the three standards of review listed above. Judicial review refers to a review of the constitutionality of a statute. When exercising judicial review of a statute for constitutionality, the appropriate standard of review envisioned by the framers of the Constitution was "irreconcilable variance" between the statute and the Constitution. In other words, statutes are constitutional unless they can never reasonably be reconciled with constitutional principles. Under this standard, few statutes would be found unconstitutional.
Today, however, the Supreme Court generally judges legislation based on whether it has a reasonable relationship to a legitimate state interest. For example, a statute requiring the licensing of opticians is permissible because it has the legitimate state objective of ensuring the health of consumers, and the licensing statutes are reasonably related to ensuring their health by requiring certain education for opticians. Williamson v. Lee Optical Co., 348 U.S. 483 (1955)
If, however, the statute impinges on a fundamental right, such as those listed in the Bill of Rights or the Fourteenth Amendment, then the court will apply "strict scrutiny." This means the statute must be narrowly tailored to address a compelling state interest. For example, a statute restricting the amount of funds that a candidate for public office may receive in order to reduce public corruption is unconstitutional because it is overly broad and impinges the right to freedom of speech. It affects not only corrupting individual contributions, but also non-corrupting expenditures from their own personal or family resources, as well as other sources that may not exhibit a corrupting influence. Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976)
There are also intermediate standards of review.
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