The Federal Court System

who is it and what do they do?

District Courts

  • District Courts are where trials are heard and lawsuits are started.
  • All states have at least one district court
  • District courts have "original jurisdiction" which means, they have the authority to hear a case for the first time
  • District courts hear both Civil and Criminal cases
  • There are ninety-four district courts


  • The appeals court reviews the decisions made in the lower or district court
  • The appeals court has "appellate jurisdiction which means that they have the authority to hear a case appealed from a lower court.
  • There are 12 court of appeals, each of these twelve US court of appeals covers a particular geographic area, called "circuits"
  • There is however a thirteenth court called the "court of appeals for federal circuit" which has nationwide jurisdiction
  • Cases can be appealed to this court because of the verdict made at the lower level
  • Appeal courts DO NOT hold trials, for they do not determine guilt or innocence; only if the trial was fair and the peoples rights were protected
  • Most appeals court decisions are final- however only a few cases are appealed to the supreme court
  • When in a trial, one judge writes an "opinion" explaining the legal thinking behind the decision. the opinion then sets a precedent or model for other judges to follow when faced with a similar case
  • There are three decisions that can be made in an appeals court.
First there is what is called an "Uphold" and that is where the original decision is "upheld".
Secondly there is what is called an "Overturn", an overturn is where the original decision is "overturned" and is reversed.

Lastly there is a "Remand" where the court decides to send back to the lower court to be tried again

Officials of the Court

  • Each district has at least two judges
  • Each Appellate Court has between six and twenty seven judges
  • Judges in the Supreme Court are often called "Justices"
  • There are nine Justices in the Supreme Court
  • The president appoints all federal judges and must be approved by the senate.
  • Usually the president will nominate a judge due to their common views
  • These federal judges serve a life term
  • A federal judge can only be removed through the process of impeachment
  • A Magistrate judge initially decides if a suspect will be held in jail or given bail
  • Every judicial district has a US Attorney, these attorneys are on the prosecution team for those that are accused of a federal crime, they look into the charges of the case and present evidence in court, and represent the US in civil cases involving the government
  • Every judicial branch also has what is called a "US Marshal", these marshals protect the jurors, serve warrants/subpoenas, and provide order to the court, they make arrests, collect fines, and take the people convicted to prison.