Unit 6 Lesson 1 Mastery Assignment

How the Federal Court System works

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US Marshal

  • The U.S. Marshals Service is the nation’s oldest and most versatile federal law enforcement agency. Federal Marshals have served the country since 1789, oftentimes in unseen but critical ways. To this day, the Marshals occupy a uniquely central position in the federal justice system. It is the enforcement arm of the federal courts, and as such, it is involved in virtually every federal law enforcement initiative.
  • Presidentially appointed U.S. Marshals direct the activities of 94 districts — one for each federal judicial district. More than 3,925 Deputy Marshals and Criminal Investigators form the backbone of the agency. Among their many duties, they apprehend more than half of all federal fugitives, protect the federal judiciary, operate the Witness Security Program, transport federal prisoners and seize property acquired by criminals through illegal activities.

Courts of Appeals

  • The 94 U.S. judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a United States court of appeals. A court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies.

  • In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws and cases decided by the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims.

District Court and US Attorneys

  • The district courts are the general trial courts of the federal court system. Each district court has at least one United States District Judge, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for a life term. District courts handle trials within the federal court system – both civil and criminal. The districts are the same as those for the U.S. Attorneys, and the U.S. Attorney is the primary prosecutor for the federal government in his or her respective area.
  • District court judges are responsible for managing the court and supervising the court’s employees. They are able to continue to serve so long as they maintain “good behavior,” and they can be impeached and removed by Congress. There are over 670 district court judges nationwide.

Magistrate Judge

  • Some tasks of the district court are given to federal magistrate judges. Magistrates are appointed by the district court by a majority vote of the judges and serve for a term of eight years if full-time and four years if part-time, but they can be reappointed after completion of their term. In criminal matters, magistrate judges may oversee certain cases, issue search warrants and arrest warrants, conduct initial hearings, set bail, decide certain motions (such as a motion to suppress evidence), and other similar actions. In civil cases, magistrates often handle a variety of issues such as pre-trial motions and discovery.

Circuit and Opinion

  • Once the federal district court has decided a case, the case can be appealed to a United States court of appeal. There are twelve federal circuits that divide the country into different regions. Each circuit court has multiple judges, ranging from six on the First Circuit to twenty-nine on the Ninth Circuit. Circuit court judges are appointed for life by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
  • Though it is rare, the entire circuit court may consider certain appeals in a process called an “en banc hearing.” En banc opinions tend to carry more weight and are usually decided only after a panel has first heard the case. Once a panel has ruled on an issue and “published” the opinion, no future panel can overrule the previous decision. The panel can, however, suggest that the circuit take up the case en banc to reconsider the first panel’s decision.
  • All opinions of the Court are, typically, handed down by the last day of the Court's term (the day in late June/early July when the Court recesses for the summer). With the exception of this deadline, there are no rules concerning when decisions must be released. Typically, decisions that are unanimous are released sooner than those that have concurring and dissenting opinions.
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Life Term

  • The members of the Court are referred to as “justices” and, like other federal judges, they are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for a life term. There are nine justices on the court – eight associate justices and one chief justice.

Remand

  • Send the case back to the lower court to be tried again.
  • When an appellate court reverses the decision of a lower court, the written decision often contains an instruction to remand the case to the lower court to be reconsidered in light of the appellate court's ruling.
  • Cases are also remanded to Federal agencies for reconsideration in disputes over regulation or administrative decisions.

Precedent

  • A case or issue decided by a court that can be used to help answer future legal questions.

Appellate Jurisdiction

The power of a court to hear appeals from lower courts. This includes the power to reverse or modify the lower court's decision. In the federal system, the circuit courts have appellate jurisdiction over the cases of the district courts, and the supreme court has appellate jurisdiction over the decisions of the circuit courts.

Original Jurisdiction

  • A court's power to hear and decide a case before any appellate review. A trial court must necessarily have original jurisdiction over the types of cases it hears.
  • Relatively few original jurisdiction cases come to the Court. In recent times there have been one or two a year. The Court's practice in these cases is to appoint a "Master" to hear the evidence, determine facts, and recommend a decision. This allows the Court to deal with the dispute very much like it does with those that come to it on appeal, for it puts the Court in the posture of reviewing the Master's findings and recommendations in the light of legal arguments made by the opposing parties.
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