Federal court system

How our court system works

District Courts

The District Court is the lowest level court. They are where trials are held and lawsuits are begun. They have original jurisdiction which means they hear the case for the first time.

U.S. Court of Appeals

The Appeals courts are the next level of courts. They review decisions made in the district courts. They have appellate jurisdiction which means they hear a case appealed from a lower court. They can either uphold the original decision, change it, or they can remand the case and send it back to the lower courts. Each Court of Appeals covers a certain area of the U.S. called a circuit. In a Court of Appeals, one judge writes an opinion which explains the legal thinking behind the decision. The opinion sets a precedent for other judges for future cases.


Magistrate Judges decide whether accused people should be held in jail or released on bail. Us Attorneys are government officials who prosecute people accused of breaking federal law. US Marshals make arrests, collect fines, and take people to prison. Also Federal Judges serve for life terms.