Levels of the Federal Court System

Their responsibilities and types of jurisdiction

District Courts

  • Hear and decide all federal cases, both criminal and civil, for the first time, giving them original jurisdiction
  • Are the only federal courts with witnesses and juries
  • All states have at least one district court

Courts of Appeals

  • A lawyer can request an appeal, asking a court of appeals to review the case
  • There are 12 of these courts, each covering a geographic area called a circuit
  • There is also a 13th court of appeals that has nationwide jurisdiction, called the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
  • They don't decide cases, but rather review the case records and hear from both sides to determine if the trial was fair and protected the person's rights
  • They hold appellate jurisdiction- the authority to hear a case appealed from a lower court
  • They make one of three decisions and write an opinion explaining their legal reasoning behind it
  1. Uphold the original decision
  2. Reverse the original decision
  3. Send the case back to a lower court to be retried, called remanding the case

The Supreme Court

  • Although most courts of appeals decisions are final, some cases are appealed to the Supreme Court
  • The Supreme Court also reviews the case and makes a decision
  • There are nine judges, or justices, in this court

Types of Jurisdiction

  • All federal courts mostly have exclusive jurisdiction over eight types of cases, meaning only federal courts can hear and decide them.
  1. If the law in question applies to the US Constitution
  2. Cases involving violations of federal laws
  3. Any disagreement between state governments
  4. Lawsuits between citizens of different states
  5. If the US government sues someone or vice versa
  6. Disputes between a foreign government and the US government or an American private party
  7. Cases involving admiralty or maritime laws
  8. Cases involving US diplomats
  • Sometimes jurisdiction over a case may be shared between the state and federal courts. This is called concurrent jurisdiction.