Court System in the United States

The court system in the U.S.

Court System in the United States

1. Federal courts. The federal court system has three levels, as well as three special courts.
•The Supreme Court of the United States decides Constitutional issues, and handles cases between or among states, and between or among states and the federal government. It is the “court of last resort,”i.e., the highest court of appeals, for any case involving a Constitutional question or a matter of federal law.
•The 12 Circuit Courts, or Courts of Appeals, cover the 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Marianas. They do not decide cases, but hear appeals on questions of the Constitution and of federal law. There is also a 13th Federal Circuit, which has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in special cases, including patent law and cases from the Courts of International Trade and Federal Claims (see below).
•The 94 Federal District Courts, covering the same geographical area as the Circuit Courts, are the trial courts of the federal system. They hear all serious felony cases dealing with violations of federal law, as well as civil cases with more than $75,000 at stake where the parties are citizens of different states or US citizens and foreign governments. They also try cases where Constitutional issues are raised, and have jurisdiction in matters of maritime law.
•Special courts include Bankruptcy Court (the federal government has jurisdiction over all bankruptcies); the Court of International Trade, which has jurisdiction over international trade and customs issues; and the Court of Federal Claims, which handles trials and some appeals for all claims – money damages and others – against the federal government.

2. State courts. The court system of each state deals with the laws and constitutional issues of that state. While there is considerable variation in state court systems, the general structure in most cases provides three or four levels of courts:
•State Supreme Court. The court of last resort on appeals involving State law and the state constitution. In some states, the Supreme Court is the only appeals court, with all other state courts being trial courts.
•Appeals Court. In states that have an Appeals Court, it functions similarly to the federal Circuit Courts, hearing appeals from the trial courts on issues of law and state constitutionality.
•General jurisdiction trial courts (District Courts). These courts, located, as you might guess, in different districts around the state so as to be accessible to citizens in all areas, try most civil and criminal cases. In some states, there are two levels of general trial courts, with one handling only the more serious cases.

Resources about the U.S. court system

  • The judicial process: An introductory analysis of the courts of the United States, England, and France. HJ Abraham – 1993
  • Courts of appeals in the federal judicial system: A study of the Second, Fifth, and District of Columbia Circuits.JW Howard
  • Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 1, Scope and Purpose. DR Coquillette – 2011
  • Academic Freedom and the First Amendment in the Supreme Court of the United States: An Unhurried Historical Review. W Van Alstyne – 2011
  • Public Reverence for the United States Supreme Court : Is the Court Invincible?.J Gibson – 2012



See Also

References and Further Reading

About the Author/s and Reviewer/s

Author: international

Mentioned in these Entries

List of U.S. Federal Court Reports, State law, U.S. Digests, U.S. States Court Reports, United States Style Codes, United States Supreme Court.



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