Federal Court System

By: Loan Le

U.S. Marshals

  • every federal district has one
  • they make arrests, collect fines, and take convicted people to prison
  • they protect jurors, keep order in the court, and serve subpoenas ordering people to appear in court

U.S. Marshal Qualifications


  • be a U.S. citizen
  • have a bachelor's degree; 3 years of qualifying work experience; or a combination of education and experience equivalent
  • have a valid driver's license in good standing
  • successfully complete a background investigation
  • be in excellent physical condition
  • undergo a rigorous 17 1/2 week basic training program

U.S. Attorneys

  • Every federal judicial district also has a U.S. attorney—a government lawyer who prosecutes people accused of breaking federal laws.
  • U.S. attorneys look into the charges and present the evidence in court.
  • They also represent the United States in civil cases involving the government.
  • U.S. Attorneys and their offices are part of the Department of Justice.
  • U.S. Attorneys receive oversight, supervision and administrative support services through the Justice Department.

Magistrate Judge

  • They decide whether accused people should be held in jail or released on bail.

  • They hear preliminary evidence and determine whether the case should go to trial.

  • Each district court has magistrate judges who do much of the judge’s routine work.

Federal Judges

  • Each district court has at least 2 judges.
  • Each appeals court has 6 to 27 judges.
  • The Supreme Court has 9 justices.
  • Federal courts judges are appointed by the president with Senate approval. This is in the Constitution.
  • They serve for life terms, which means as long as they want. It doesn't mean they have to stay until then.
  • The current Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is John Roberts.
  • Only Supreme Court justices serve for life.

U.S. Court of Appeals

  • People who lose in a district court often appeal to the next highest level—a U.S. court of appeals.
  • Appeals courts review decisions made in lower district courts. An example of this could be if a person has been found guilty of murder and a mistake was found in the proceedings. The defendant’s lawyer can request an appeal.
  • This is appellate jurisdiction—the authority to hear a case appealed from a lower court.
  • Each of the 12 U.S. courts of appeals covers a particular geographic area called a circuit.

Appeal Courts

  • Appeals courts do not decide guilt or innocence or which side should win a suit.
  • They rule only on whether the original trial was fair and protected the person’s rights.
  • Most appeals court decisions are final. A few cases are appealed to the Supreme Court.
  • One appellate judge writes an opinion that explains the legal thinking behind the court’s decision in the case.
  • The opinion sets a precedent or model for other judges to follow in making their own decisions on similar cases.

Extra Courts

  • A thirteenth appeals court, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, has nationwide jurisdiction.
  • Appeals courts do not hold trials. Instead, a panel of judges reviews the case records and listens to arguments from lawyers on both sides.
  • The judges for this and all appeals courts are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate.
  • The judges may decide in one of three ways: uphold the original decision, reverse the decision, or remand the case—send it back to the lower court to be tried again.

U.S District Courts

  • Where trials are held and lawsuits are begun.
  • All states have at least one but some larger states have two or three.
  • For all federal cases, district courts have original jurisdiction, the authority to hear the case for the first time.
  • District courts (94) hear both civil and criminal cases.
  • The only federal courts that involve witnesses and juries.