A. The Creation of a National Judiciary
1. The federal court system was established by Article III of the
2. There are two separate court systems in the United States.
a. The United States has a national system of courts.
b. The majority of the cases heard in the United States each year
are heard in the state courts.
3. Over the years Congress has created two types of federal
a. Article III, or Constitutional courts include the United
States Supreme Court, the courts of appeals, the district courts, and the Court of
b. Article I, or 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. Jurisdiction is the power of a
court to try and decide a case.
2. They can also hear cases that arise on the high seas or in
navigable waters of the United States.
3. Federal courts may hear only cases that involve certain
4. All cases that do not fall under the jurisdiction of the
federal courts are within the jurisdiction of the State courts.
5. Some federal courts have exclusive
jurisdiction, i.e., those cases that can ONLY be heard in the federal courts.
6. By far, the most common kind of jurisdiction (judicial
authority) is concurrent jurisdiction, i.e.,
they share the power to hear cases. Cases can be heard in either the federal or state
courts. **** In civil cases, a plaintiff is one who
initiates a lawsuit, a defendant is the party against whom a
lawsuit is brought. In criminal cases, the government is the equivalent of a
plaintiff in that the government is the party who initiates the criminal action.
a.Cases involving concurrent jurisdiction fall into the following
a. Common law - Also known as "judge made law" which is
based on the legal concept of stare decisis, or judicial precedent. This law
originated in England.
b. Cases of equity - Those cases which cannot be resolved under
common law precedent. Judges may be asked to issue injunctions or award damages against an
c. Statutory law:
1) Civil law - cases that deal with contract issues and tort
cases and define the legal rights of individuals.
2) Criminal law - cases that derive from criminal statutes passed
by the federal and state governments.
3) Public law - cases that include constitutional law, involving
constitutional issues, and administrative law, involving disputes over the jurisdiction of
public or administrative agencices.
7. The district court in which a case is first heard is said to
have original jurisdiction. Original
jurisdiction is the power to hear a case first, before any other court.
8. The appellate court to which a case is appealed from a lower
court is said to have appellate jurisdiction. Appellate
jurisdiction is the authority of a court to review decision of inferior (lower) courts
on questions of law.
9. The concept of an independent judiciary presupposes that the
courts are to be free from outside influence.
C. Appointment of Judges
1. Federal judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by
the Senate. **** Federal Judges CANNOT be removed from office at the President's
discretion. Only method of removal is through the constitutional avenue of impeachment.
2. **** Presidents almost always nominate persons from their
own political party who share their ideology, with deference to the senators from the
State in which the appointee will serve, i.e., "senatorial courtesy," and with
"some" consultation of the leaders of the party to which the President belongs.
This is especially true of the selection of Supreme Court justices where the nominees are
usually members of the President's political party. From the administration of FDR to
the administration of Bill Clinton, with the exception of Gerald Ford, every president has
appointed over 90 percent of lower federal court judges from his own political party.
3. Once nominated, the judicial candidate must appear before the
Senate Judiciary Committee and is given a complete background check by the Department of
D. Terms and Pay of Judges
1. Federal constitutional judges, Article III judges, are
appointed for life and may be removed only through the impeachment process.
2. Congress sets judicial salaries and benefits.
E. Court Officers
1. Each district court has many officials who assist the district
2. These include clerks, bailiffs, stenographers, magistrates,
bankruptcy judges, United States attorneys, and federal marshals. Federal marshals carry
out duties much like those handled by a county sheriff. They arrest persons accused of
federal crimes, serve legal papers, execute court orders and decisions, among other
A. The United States District
1. There are 632 federal district judges. 80 percent of the
federal cases that come before federal judges are tried in the federal district courts.
Usually, cases tried in federal district courts are heard by a single federal judge.
Exception: Voting Rights cases and redistricting cases.
2. Each Stated forms at least one judicial district, and two
judges are assigned to each district. U.S. District courts cover an assigned territory
that is based primarily on geographic regions.
3. U.S. District Courts have original jurisdiction over most of
the cases heard in the federal courts.
a. U.S. District Courts hear both civil and criminal cases.
b. U.S. District Courts use both grand and petit juries. Not used
by the circuit courts.
B. The United States Courts of
1. U.S. Court of appeals were created in 1891 as
"gatekeepers" to the Supreme Court. They were create primarily to relieve the United States Supreme Court
of the burden of hearing most appeals. They have only appellate jurisdiction, no original
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. Cases brought before the federal courts of appeals are
usually heard by a panel of three judges.
4. They also hear appeals from the decisions of several federal
regulatory agencies from such quasi-judicial agencies as the ICC, the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission.
C. Two Other Constitutional Courts
D. The Supreme Court at Work
1. Oral Arguments In oral argument, lawyers address the
justices, emphasizing the major points of law they made in their written briefs.
2. Briefs Briefs, written documents supporting one side of
a case, are submitted before oral arguments are heard. **** The Court may also give
permission for the filing of amicus curiae briefs, i.e.,
"friends of the Court." Interest groups attempt to affect the federal courts by
filing amicus curiae briefs in relevant cases pending before the court. They may be
filed ONLY at the request of the Court, or with the Court's permission. Amicus
briefs support one side in a case so by definition, cite legal precedents to persuade the
Court of a certain point of view.
3. Solicitor general The solicitor general represents the
United States before the Supreme Court in all cases to which it is a party.
4. The Conference The justices meet in secret session to
discuss in depth and vote on the cases they have heard.
5. Opinions The majority of the justices of the Supreme
Court always write the Opinions of the Court (the majority
opinion); there may also be concurring opinions and dissenting opinions; all may have
an influence on subsequent rulings.
a. Concurring opinion
an opinion written to make a point that was not made in the Opinion of the Court.
b.Dissenting opinion an
opinion disagreeing with the majority opinion of the Court.
6. Judicial philosophies
a. Judicial activism - Perhaps the most activist Court in the
history of the Supreme Court, the Warren Court (1953-1969) faced the question of
determining the future of the civil rights movement, among other things. Critics of
judicial activism believe that Congress, not the Court, should make policy.
b. Judicial restraint - The Rehnquist Court (1986-present), is
the most conservative Court in American history, exercising judicial restraint at every
opportunity. Those favoring judicial restraint would like to see judicial precedent be the
A. Special Courts, in General
1. Two types of courts, constitutional and special.
2. Special courts, also known as "legislative courts,"
or "Article I" courts, are not established pursuant to Article III, so they do
not exercise the broad "judicial power of the United States."
3. Unlike constitutional courts, i.e., Article III courts,
Article I courts, i.e., the special courts, do not exercise the "judicial power of
the United States."
B. The United States Claims
1. The United States cannot be sued - by anyone, in any court,
for any reason - without its consent.
2. The Claims Court hears cases from all over the country in
which there are claims for damages against the Federal Government.
3. Originally, before 1855, a person with a claim against the
Untied States could secure redress only by an act of Congress.Redress
is satisfaction/payment of a claim.
C. The Territorial Courts
1. Under the Constitution, Congress created courts for the
nation's territories. At the current time, there are three (3) courts. The courts sit in
the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Marianas.
2. These courts operate much like local (state) trial courts.
D. The Courts of the District of Columbia
1. The District of Columbia has its own system of courts.
2. This system was established by Congress.
E. The Court of Military
1. The three judges of this court are civilians appointed to
15-year terms, with the consent of the Senate.
2. This court, sometimes called the "GI Supreme Court,"
hears appeals from serious court-martial convictions. Its decisions may be, but almost
never are, appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
F. The Court of Veterans
1. The seven judges of the Court of Veterans Appeals are
appointed by the President for 15-year terms, with the consent of the Senate.
2. They hear appeals from veterans who claim that the Veteran's
Administration has mishandled their case.
3. Appeals from the Court of Veterans Appeals go to the Court of
Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
G. The United States Tax Court
1. The 19 judges of the Tax Court are appointed by the President
to 12-year terms. Established in 1969.
2. The Tax Court hears only civil cases involving disputes over
the application of tax laws.