Federal Court System

By: Michelle Taylor


Jurisdiction is the authority given by law to a court to try cases and rule on legal matters within a particular geographic area and/or over certain types of legal cases. This is the right to administer justice.

The following apply to Jurisdiction:

  • Appellate: Appeal courts review decisions that are made in lower courts. An appellate jurisdiction is the power to hear a case appealed from a court that is lower. An example would be if there was a mistake found in a hearing and the lawyer wanted to request an appeal.

  • Original Jurisdiction: Original jurisdiction occurs when district courts have the privilege of hearing a case for the very first time before anyone else


District Courts: Federal courts where trials are held and lawsuits start. They have original jurisdiction (hearing the case the very first time) They deal with both civil and criminal cases. They are also the only federal courts where witnesses and juries are a part of the verdict.

Court of Appeals This type of court has nationwide jurisdiction. They don't hold trials; instead they have a panel of judges review the case and listen to both sides of the story.

They decide on how to handle the case in three different ways:

  • uphold the original decision
  • reverse the decision or
  • remand the case

Remand: When a case is sent back to the lower court to be tried again.

Positions of Authority

Important Vocabulary

Circuit: Each of the 12 US courts of appeals covers a certain geographic area

Precedent: The opinion will then set a model, otherwise known as a precedent, which is for other judges to follow when they make their own choices on similar cases

Life Terms: Federal court judges are appointed by the president with Senate approval. They have life terms, meaning that they can stay in their position for as long as they would like however, they can leave whenever they prefer as well. Only Supreme Court justices serve for life.