Equal Justice Under Law:

A Day in the Life of the Federal Court System

As told by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Our federal courts settle civil disputes between groups such as private parties and the local, state, or federal government. In my time before and currently serving as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, I have reviewed and participated in hundreds of civil disputes regarding many different topics of law.


District courts are federal courts where trials and held and lawsuits begin. They have Original Jurisdiction, meaning they have the authority to hear the case for the first time. People who lose in district court sometimes request an appeal, where the case moves to the next highest level in a U.S. Court of Appeal. This process is called appellate jurisdiction or the authority of the Court of Appeals to hear a case that has been appealed from a lower level. Each of these 12 U.S. Court of Appeals covers a certain area called a circuit. The next highest level of court is the thirteenth appeals court, the Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit. This appeals court does not hold trials, rather, a panel of judges reviews case records and asks questions to lawyers. The final decision of this third court may end in three ways: uphold the original decision, reverse the decision, or remand it (send it back down to a lower court to be tried again).


The main goal of appeals courts is to merely decide whether the original trial was far, and protected the person’s rights. When final court decision are made, one of the appellate judges writes an opinion piece that explains the legal thinking behind a decision. This piece becomes a precedent for other judges to make decision in similar cases.


As for the people involved in the federal court system, there are U.S. Marshalls, U.S. Attorneys, Magistrate Judges, and members of the Supreme Court. U.S. Marshalls are men and women who compete rigorous training to do tasks such as making arrests, collecting fines, taking convicted people to prisons, as well as protecting jurors and keeping order within the courtroom. U.S. Attorneys are lawyers who represent the government in prosecuting people who break federal laws. Magistrate Judges decided whether accused people should be in jail or released on bail. They also do much of the routine work for judges, are responsible for hearing evidence and even deciding whether a case should go to trial! The nine justices that make up the Supreme Court are nominated and approved by the president and by members of senate, then allowed to serve on the court for a life term.

NCVPS H Civics Module 6 Lesson 1 Mastery Assignment