United States Court System

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The United States Court System: An Overview

Article III of the United States Constitution states “… Judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish,” (Osterburg& Ward, 2004, p. 617) providing the basis of the federal systems of government. This system is known as federalism embracing national and state governments. A significant and complex feature of the judiciary in the United States is the dual court system. One distinction between the federal courts and the state courts is that each has an assigned jurisdiction, as outlined in the United States Constitution. This led to the development of an individual court system for each state, the District of Columbia, and one for the federal government. Whereas some legal issues can be entirely in the state courts and others entirely in federal courts, there are times when both courts must become involved sometimes causing friction. By exploring this subject further the hope is to gain a better understanding of the United States judicial system. The federal system is composed of several courts the highest court is the Supreme Court referred to as, the highest court in the land, because it hears the appeals from state and federal courts alike (Chemerinsky, 2007). Nine justices preside over the court and terms begin the first Monday in October each year. Cases heard in the Supreme Court usually have been appealed from a lower court. Individuals wanting their cases heard by the Supreme Court must file a “writ of certiorari” and four of the nine judges must agree to issue a writ for the court to hear the case (Vermeule, 2007). In an average year the court will be asked to hear some 7,000 cases, fewer than 200 are accepted (United States Courts, n.d.). The Federal Courts of Appeals are just below the Supreme Court. These courts have been divided into 12 different regions, known as circuits. Eleven of the 12 handle cases from the different states and the twelfth for the District of Columbia in Washington D.C. The court of appeals for the federal circuit has nationwide jurisdiction allowing it to hear appeals in specialized cases, some of which involve patent laws and those that have been decided by the Court of International Trade and Court of Federal Claim. At the lowest level of the federal court system is the federal district courts. Ninety-four judicial districts, including districts in the Northern Mariana Islands, Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. The District Courts are “trial” courts; therefore the judges can try cases in criminal and civil law. Most of the civil and criminal cases heard in the federal courts start at this level. The Judges here review petitions, hear motions, and issue injunctions. The judges decide the question of law or fact, issues such as admissibility of certain types of evidence or legality of an arrest in a case. Two special trial courts exist at this level; The Court of International Trade and the United States Court of Federal Claims are two special trial courts. The first handles cases to do with international trade and customs and the second has jurisdiction over the majority of claims for monetary damages against the United States. The Federal Court of Appeals and the Court of Appeals of The State of Georgia both handle cases that have been appealed by defense attorneys in criminal cases and either plaintiff or respondent attorneys in civil cases. Although both the Federal Court of Appeals and the Court of Appeals of The State of Georgia follow due process of law afforded by the United States Constitution, both courts are governed by a lengthy set of rules. The most notable difference between the Federal Court of Appeals and the Court of Appeals of The State of Georgia are the cases that are heard. The Georgia appellate court hears cases that are appealed from the district...
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