The Federal Court System

Ciara Henihan Module 6 Lesson 1 Mastery Assignment

The Judicial Branch

The Judicial Branch interprets laws. It's predominantly made up of the court system, a complex assortment of courts that serve Americans on different levels.

District Courts

District Courts are the federal courts where trials are held and lawsuits are begun. Each state has at least one district court, and larger states may have several. For all federal cases, district courts have original jurisdiction. Original jurisdiction is the authority to hear a case for the first time. There are a total of 94 district courts, and they hear both civil and criminal cases. District Courts are the only federal courts that involve witnesses and juries.

Court of Appeals

The next highest level is the U.S. Court of Appeals. When people lose in district courts, they often appeal to this level. The Court of Appeals review decisions made in lower district courts and has appellate jurisdiction. Appellate jurisdiction is the authority to hear a case appealed from a lower court. There are twelve U.S. Courts of Appeals, and each covers a particular geographic area called a circuit. However, there is a thirteenth appeals court: the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has nationwide jurisdiction. Appeals Courts do not have trials, but rather have a panel of judges review the case records and listen to arguments from lawyers on both sides. The judges then may decide to uphold the decision, reverse the decision, or remand the case. If they choose to remand the case, it is sent back to lower courts to be tried again.

People in the Court System...

Magistrate Judges: Magistrate Judges decided whether accused people should be held in jail or released on bail. Each district court has magistrate judges who do much of the judges' routine work, such as hearing preliminary evidence and determining whether a case should go to trial.

US Attorney: Every federal judicial district also has a US Attorney. A US Attorney is a government lawyer who prosecutes people accused of breaking federal laws. US Attorneys look into the charges and present the evidence in court. They also represent the United States in civil cases involving the government. US Attorneys and their offices are part of the Department of Justice. They receive oversight, supervisions, and administrative support services through the Justice Department

US Marshall: Every federal judicial district also has a US Marshall. They make arrests, collect fines, and take convicted people to prison. They also protect jurors, keep order in the court, and serve subpoenas ordering people to appear in court. To be a US Marshall, you must be a US citizens, be between the ages of 21 and 36, have a bachelor's degree and three years of qualifying work experience (or some combination thereof), have a valid drivers license, be in excellent physical condition, successfully complete a background investigation, and undergo a rigorous seventeen and a half week basic training program.

Life Terms

Federal Court Judges serve for life terms, which means their position is guaranteed for as long as they would like it, not that they are required to serve until death.


Once a case has been decided, its court ruling can be used as a model for other court decisions in the future. This is called precedence. The opinion handed down from a judge sets a precedent for future trials and cases.


An opinion is an explanation of the reasoning behind a court ruling or decision that is written by a judge or group of judges. For example, after a Supreme Court decision is made, the judges write the majority opinion, explaining why the majority of judges voted for or against the petitioner; the concurring opinion, giving an additional reason why the majority of judges votes for or against the petitioner; and the dissenting opinion, which explains why some judges may disagree.