United States federal courts

United States federal courts
United States

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The United States federal courts make up the judiciary branch of federal government of the United States organized under the United States Constitution and laws of the federal government.



The courts are one of the three coequal branches of the federal government, and include:

Highest court
Appellate courts
Original jurisdiction

While federal courts are generally created by the United States Congress under the constitutional power described in Article III, many of the specialized courts are created under the authority granted in Article I. Greater power is vested in Article III courts because they are independent of Congress, the President, and the political process.

Article III requires the establishment of a Supreme Court and permits the Congress to create other federal courts, and place limitations on their jurisdiction. In theory, Congress could eliminate the entire federal judiciary except for the Supreme Court, although the 1st Congress established a system of lower federal courts through the Judiciary Act of 1789.

Levels of U.S. federal courts

Civil procedure in the United States
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The United States district courts are the general federal trial courts, although in many cases Congress has passed statutes which divert original jurisdiction to the above-mentioned specialized courts or to administrative law judges (ALJs). In such cases, the district courts have jurisdiction to hear appeals from such lower bodies.

The United States courts of appeals are the federal intermediate appellate courts. They operate under a system of mandatory review which means they must hear all appeals of right from the lower courts.

The Supreme Court of the United States is the supreme court (court of last resort). It generally is an appellate court that operates under discretionary review; meaning that the Court, through granting of writs of certiorari, can choose which cases to hear. There is generally no right of appeal to the Supreme Court. In a few situations (like lawsuits between state governments or some cases between the federal government and a state) it sits as a court of original jurisdiction. Such matters are generally referred to a designated individual (usually a sitting or retired judge or well-respected attorney) to sit as a special master and report to the Court with recommendations.

Related organizations

Limitations on U.S. federal courts

The Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution as placing some additional restrictions on the federal courts. For example, the doctrines of mootness, ripeness, and standing prohibit district courts from issuing advisory opinions. Other doctrines, such as the abstention doctrine and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine limit the power of lower federal courts to disturb rulings made by state courts. The Erie doctrine requires federal courts to apply substantive state law to claims arising from state law (which may be heard in federal courts under supplemental or diversity jurisdiction). In difficult cases, the federal courts must either guess as to how a court of that state would decide the issue or "certify" the issue to a state court if the state has provided for such a procedure.

Notably, the only federal court that can issue proclamations of federal law that bind state courts is the Supreme Court itself. Decisions of the lower federal courts on issues of federal law are persuasive but not binding authority in the states in which those federal courts sit.[2]

Study of U.S. federal courts

Most U.S. law schools offer an elective course that focuses specifically on the powers and limitations of U.S. federal courts, with coverage of topics such as justiciability, abstention doctrines, the abrogation doctrine, and habeas corpus.

See also


  1. ^ 8 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.
  2. ^ People v. Leonard, 40 Cal. 4th 1370, 1416 (2007) (Ninth Circuit decisions on federal law do not bind Supreme Court of California).

External links

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