Chapter 18 The Federal Court
flag and the
The basic role of the
judiciary in the
A. The Creation of a National
1. The federal court system was established by
Article III of the Constitution.
2. There are two separate court systems in the
a. The United States has a national system of
b. Each State has its own court system that hears
most of the cases brought in this country.
3. Over the years Congress has
created two types of federal courts
a. Constitutional courts include the Supreme
Court, the courts of appeals, the district
courts, and the Court of International Trade.
b. Special, or legislative, courts are created
by Congress and hear only a limited range
of specialized cases.
B. Jurisdiction in the Federal Courts
1. Federal courts can hear cases that deal with the
interpretation and application of a provision of the
Constitution or of any federal statute or treaty.
2. They can also hear cases that arise on the high
seas or in navigable waters of the United
3. Federal courts may hear only
cases that involve certain parties.
4. All cases that do not fall under the jurisdiction
of the federal courts are within the jurisdiction of
the State courts.
5. Some cases have exclusive (federal courts
6. Some have concurrent (federal or state
7. The district court in which a case is first
heard is said to have original jurisdiction.
8. The appellate court to which a case is
appealed from a lower court is said to have
C. Appointment of Judges
1. Federal judges are nominated by the
President and confirmed by the Senate.
2. Presidents almost always
nominate persons from their
own political party who share
their philosophy of government.
D. Terms and Pay of Judges
1. Most federal judges are appointed for life
and may be removed only through the
2. Congress sets judicial salaries and
E. Court Officers
1. Each district court has many officials
who assist the district judge.
2. These include clerks, bailiffs,
stenographers, magistrates, bankruptcy
judges, United States attorneys, and federal
II. The structure and function of
the constitutional courts in the
federal court system
A. The District Courts
1. The 665 district judges hear 80 percent of the federal caseload.
2. Each State forms at least one judicial district, and two judges are
assigned to each district.
3. District courts have original jurisdiction over most of the cases
heard in the federal courts.
a. District courts hear both civil and criminal cases.
b. District courts use both grand and petit juries.
B. The Courts of Appeals
1. Courts of appeals were
created in 1891 as "gatekeepers"
to the Supreme Court.
2. There are now 12 courts of
appeals and 179 circuit judges.
3. Appellate courts are regional and usually hear
appeals from courts within their circuits.
4. They also hear appeals from the United States
Tax Court, the territorial courts, and from the
decisions of federal regulatory commissions.
C. Two Other Constitutional Courts
1. The Court of International Trade has nine
judges who hear civil cases arising out of the
tariff and other trade-related laws. Appeals from
the Trade Court go to the Court of Appeals for the
2. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
has 12 judges. It was set up in
1982 to centralize the appeals
process in certain types of federal
cases and in cases from certain
lower and special courts.
III. The role of the Supreme
Court as the nation's highest
court and the significance of
judicial review in the American
A. Judicial Review
1. Judicial review is the power to
decide on the constitutionality of
an act of government.
2. The principle was established
in the case of Marbury v. Madison,
3. The Supreme Court has great
power as the ultimate authority on
constitutionality and as the arbiter of
disputes between States and between
States and the Federal Government.
1. The Supreme Court has both original and
appellate jurisdiction, but most of its cases
2. Today the Supreme
Court has almost
complete control over
its own caseload.
C. How Cases Reach the Court
1. Under "the rule of four," at least four judges must
agree that the Court should hear a case before that
case is selected for the Court's docket.
2. Most cases reach the Court by
writ of certiorari—an order to a
lower court to send up the record
in a given case. Antonin Scalia
3. Some cases are sent to the Supreme Court by
certificate—when appellate courts, State supreme
courts, or others request a ruling on a particular
point of law.
D. The Supreme Court at Work
1. Oral Arguments—In oral arguments, lawyers speak to the
justices, emphasizing the major points
they made in their written briefs.
2. Briefs—Briefs, written documents
supporting one side of a case, are
submitted before oral arguments are heard. Clarence Thomas
3. Solicitor General—The solicitor general represents the United
States before the Supreme Court in all cases to which it is a
4. The Conference—The justices meet in secret session to discuss
in depth and vote on the cases they have heard.
5. Opinions—Justices of the Supreme Court always write the
Opinion of the Court; there may also be concurring opinions and
dissenting opinions; all may have an influence on subsequent
IV: The role and jurisdiction of
the special courts in the federal
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
A. The United States Claims
1. The United States may be sued only if it
gives its consent.
2. The Claims Court hears cases from all
over the country in which there are claims
for damages against the Federal
B. The Territorial Courts
1. Under the Constitution,
Congress created courts
for the nation's territories.
2. These courts operate
much like local courts in
the State systems.
C. The Courts of the District of
1. The District of Columbia has its own
system of courts.
2. This system was set up by Congress.
D. The Court of Appeals for the
1. The five judges of this court are civilians
appointed to 15-year terms.
2. This court hears appeals from court-
martial convictions and is usually the court
of last resort for members of the armed
E. The Court of Veterans Appeals
1. The seven judges of the Court of Veterans
Appeals are appointed by the President for
15- year terms.
2. They hear appeals from veterans who
claim that the Veterans' Administration has
mishandled their cases.
F. The United States Tax Court
1. The 19 judges of the Tax Court are
appointed by the President to 12-year terms.
2. The Tax Court hears only civil cases
involving disputes over the application of