The Structure of the Federal Court System The Constitution established the Supreme Court and empowered Congress to create such inferior federal courts as it may deem necessary. The federal court system forms a pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid are the ninety-one federal district courts and a number of specialty courts, such as the U.S. Claims Court, Bankruptcy Court, and Tax Court, which hear particular kinds of cases. Thirteen appeals courts review cases from the federal district and specialty courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the pyramid, acts as a court of last resort for federal cases. Federal judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, after a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Federal judges serve for life, subject to good behavior. Federal courts deal primarily with issues of constitutional law, real damages over $10,000, and issues involving more than one state or residency. District Courts, which have original jurisdiction in federal cases sometimes use a grand jury to indict and a petit jury to convict. The thirteen appellate courts hear appeals from lower federal courts. The Supreme Court selects the cases it wishes to hear. In only rare instances—all of them listed in the Constitution—does the Supreme Court have original jurisdiction. These are cases involving two or more states, the United States and a state government, or foreign ambassadors or diplomats. Most cases before the Supreme Court involve appeals from lower courts or cases the justices believe involve significant constitutional issues. The Court’s chief justice and eight associate justices render decisions by a majority vote. Minority justices often write dissenting opinions to explain the rationale for their differing opinions. The Supreme Court relies heavily, but not exclusively, upon past legal practice as the basis for its decisions. Part A: Use your textbook or other reference material to define the following two terms essential to understanding the federal court system: 1. Original jurisdiction 2. Appellate jurisdiction The Structure of the Federal Court System Part B: Study the chart of the federal court system. Then study the sample court cases that follow the chart. After each case, write to which court from the list below you believe the case should be assigned. Give the reason for your choice. a. State of local (not federal) court b. Federal District Court c. Specialty Courts shown on the chart d. U.S. Court of Appeals e. Supreme Court Supreme Court Court of last resort; decides constitutional issues Federal Appeals Court Court of appellate jurisdiction Federal District Court Court of original jurisdiction Specialty Courts: U.S. Claims Court Bankruptcy Court Tax Court Courts of original jurisdiction The Structure of the Federal Court System 1. Employees of Chester Carpet Company and their employer for failing to make pension contributions as required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. 2. Thomas was convicted in a federal district court for kidnapping a twenty-three year old woman. He decided to appeal the court ruling. 3. Joe was arrested for burglary. He was tried and convicted in a municipal court but appealed his case based upon a question of the validity of eyewitness accounts. 4. The state appeals court refused to overturn a conviction of Alex for murder. He decided to appeal to a higher court. 5. Frances is being deported for lack of a proper visa. She sues the Department of Immigration. 6. Frederick is suing his former employer for back pay. 7. Mr. Smith believes he was not hired by a fast food restaurant because of his age. He sues the restaurant. 8. Joe Running-Eagle represents a tribe of American Indians who were denied mineral rights for their reservation, as provided in an agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He sues for compensation in the name of the tribe. 9. Harriet felt that she was discriminated against on an application for a federal civil service test. She sued the Office of Personnel Management in a federal district court but lost her case. After losing a second time in the federal appeals court, she has decided to appeal again. 10. John and his family believe they were served tainted food at a nearby restaurant. They sue the owner of the restaurant. 11. The Justice Department wished to bring suit against several supermarket chains for conspiracy to fix prices of grocery and meat products. 12. Arnold sued several manufacturers of asbestos because he claimed he had contracted asbestiosis as a result of direct exposure to their products. 13. Bernice wishes to challenge the Internal Revenue Service’s disallowance of a tax deduction she considers legitimate. 14. The State of California initiated a class action lawsuit against a leading woolen manufacturer, charging the company with conspiracy to fix prices of certain blankets and items of clothing. The Structure of the Federal Court System 15. A group of farmers are seeking damages because they claim that the Army Corps of Engineers built structures in rivers that caused floods on their property which resulted in a reduced crop harvest and loss of income. Part C: Answer the following questions: 1. Why does the United States need federal courts? 2. Why does the United States need appellate courts? 3. Why does the United States need a Supreme Court? EXTENSION: Using a traditional print newspaper or an online news source, find at least 2 articles dealing with current legal cases that are before the federal court system in the United States. Identify the issues being dealt with, the location of the trial and the outcome (if applicable) of the issue/trial. We will discuss these in class on Thursday, 4/28.
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