Federal Courts


The United States federal courts are the system of courts organized under the Constitution and laws of the federal government of the United States. They are a branch of the Federal government of the United States, and include United States District Courts, United States Courts of Appeals, the United States Supreme Court, and various specialized courts such as the United States bankruptcy courts, the United States Tax Court, and the Court of International Claims. The U.S. Marshals Service is responsible for providing protection for the federal judiciary and transporting federal prisoners.

Article III of the of United States Constitution requires the establishment of a Supreme Court, and permits the U.S. Congress to create other federal courts, and place limitations on their jurisdiction. The first Congress immediately established a system of lower federal courts through the Judiciary Act of 1789.

The Federal 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 federal district courts have jurisdiction to hear appeals from such lower bodies.

The Federal Courts of Appeals are the intermediate appellate courts. They operate under a system of mandatory review which means they must hear all appeals from the lower courts.

Finally, the United States Supreme Court is the court of last resort. It generally operates under discretionary review, meaning that it can pick and choose cases (through grants of writ of certiorari) and hear only the non-frivolous appeals that present truly novel issues. In a few odd situations (like lawsuits between state governments) it sits as a court of original jurisdiction and must hear the case.

The Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution as placing some additional restrictions on the federal courts. For example, the doctrines of ripeness and standing prohibit district courts from issuing advisory opinions.

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