Federal courts: Structure

Federal courts: Structure

Introduction to Federal Courts

  • The United States federal courts form the judiciary branch of the federal government of the United States.
  • They operate under a hierarchical structure and are responsible for interpreting the US Constitution, laws, and federal regulations.
  • This system is distinct from state courts, which operate under each respective state’s constitution and laws.

Structure and Hierarchy of Federal Courts

  • District Courts: These are the trial courts in the federal system, hearing both civil and criminal cases. There are 94 district courts across the US.
  • Circuit Courts or Courts of Appeal: These are the intermediate appellate courts. They hear appeals from the district courts. There are 13 Courts of Appeal in total.
  • Supreme Court: This is the highest court in the federal system. It has nine justices nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Characteristics of Federal Courts

  • Federal Question Jurisdiction: Federal courts can hear any case where the plaintiff’s claim arises under the US Constitution, federal laws, or treaties.
  • Diversity Jurisdiction: Federal courts can also hear cases between residents of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds a specific value.
  • Federal judges hold their position for life, unless they resign, retire, or are removed after impeachment.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Judicial Review: Federal courts have the power to review the constitutionality of legislation or governmental action.
  • Interpreting Laws: They interpret and apply federal laws and the US Constitution.
  • Adjudication: They resolve disputes between parties, including government entities, and rule on criminal cases.

Limitations and Criticisms

  • Critics argue that lifetime appointments can lead to stagnation and a lack of diversity within the judiciary.
  • The federal courts have been accused of being too political, as judges are appointed by the President, leading to potential bias and partisanship.
  • The distinct separation between state and federal jurisdictions may lead to complications and disagreements over the interpretation and application of the law.