The Federal Court System: A review

By: Aziza Henry


Federal Courts are where civil and criminal disputes are resolved using the laws and precedents already set forth to achieve equal justice. Disputes are defined as a problem that is brought up between two parties. These include private parties vs. the federal government, the state vs. the government, etc. Cases not only follow the state and federal laws, but they must also abide by the Constitution which gives certain rights to the courts, the accused party, etc.

Types of Federal Courts:

U.S. District Courts - Min. of one per state, these courts are where trials are held and lawsuits begin. This is the only court that allows witnesses and juries and there are 94 of them nationwide.

Magistrate Judges - Each district court has one of them and they do much of the judges routine work. They are essentially the pre-trial judges, as they decide whether a case should go to trial based on preliminary evidence. Also, the judges decide whether the accused party goes to jail or is released on bail.

U.S. Court of Appeals - Thirteen in all, each covers a particular geographic area, or circuit. No trials are held in these courts. When a person loses a case and believes that there had been a mistake or their rights were infringed upon, they may appeal the case to this court. A panel of judges reviews the case over and may due one of the following:

  • Uphold the original decision - Find nothing wrong and the original decision of the lower court is taken.
  • Reverse the decision - The opposite ruling is taken if a mistake is found and agreed upon.
  • Remand the case - If the judges do not know what action should be taken or if they believe the case needs to be redone then they send it back to the lower court to be re-tried.
Once a decision is made, one appellate judge will write and Opinion - a document that will explain the legal reasoning behind the Courts decision. This decision will set a precedent for how similar cases should be handled.

U.S. Supreme Court - The highest court with nine justices in all. Only Supreme Court Justices serve life terms. Few cases are sent up from the Court of Appeals to this one and they are only allowed to hear a certain amount per year.

Types of Jurisdiction

U.S. Attorneys & Marshals

Every federal judicial district has both an attorney and marshal:

U.S. Attorneys - A government lawyer who prosecutes people accused of breaking federal laws. They look into charges and present the evidence to the court. Also represent the U.S. in civil cases involving the federal government. They are apart of the U.S. Department of Justice.

U.S. Marshals - Make arrest, collect fines, take convicted people to prisons, protect jurors, keep order in the court, and serve subpoenas ordering people to appear in court.

Between the ages of 21-36, they are bachelor degree holders who must undergo rigorous training and extensive background checks before becoming a marshal.