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5.2 The Federal Court System

As the American Constitution only specifies the organization of the Supreme Court, the Congress took the initiative to organize the federal court system under the Judiciary Act of 1789. A hierarchy of three kinds of courts exists in the federal government: the district courts at the bottom, the circuit courts of appeals above them and the Supreme Court of the U.S. at the top. Besides these, there are also legislative and special courts that handle cases that require only a limited amount of legislation.

5.2a District Courts

The states are divided into districts for the District Courts, each state constituting one or more district. A single judge normally presides over the District Courts. Districts are further divided into sections, and in each section, two or more sessions of court are usually held by a district judge. Apart from the judge, the main officers of a District Court, are the U.S. Attorney and the Marshal. The U.S. Attorney works as the governmentís prosecuting attorney. The U.S. Marshal functions as the "federal sheriff" to summon jurors, hold persons accused of crime, and executive orders of the court.

As they are the principal trial courts, the District Courts are given original jurisdiction over several federal crimes like mail fraud, counterfeiting, smuggling and bank robbery. The civil jurisdiction of the District Courts is defined in Title 28 of the United States Code and may deal with civil cases pertaining to water rights, interstate commerce and environmental issues. Juries decide around half of the cases dealt with by District courts.

State cases dealing with constitutional matters are first heard in the District Courts.


5.2b Courts of Appeal

The Circuit Courts of Appeal are intermediate courts, between the District Courts and the Supreme Court. These courts cover a geographic area known as a circuit. The main function of the circuit court is to relieve the Supreme Court of some of its appellate work. Their decrees are regarded as final, unless the Supreme Court reviews them. There should be at least three judges in a Court of Appeals, of whom two constitute a quorum. A Court of Appeals may hold its sessions in different cities within its circuit. Thus for example, the court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit including Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii, holds its sessions in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle. A justice of the Supreme Court is assigned to each circuit. A Court Appeals may call District judges to sit on a case.

Apart from its power to enforce, set aside or modify the orders of several administrative agencies such as the Interstate Commerce Commission, Civil Aeronautics Board, and the National Labor Relations Board, the Court of Appeals has no original jurisdiction.

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Index

5.0 Introduction
5.1 The State Court System

5.2 The Federal Court System

5.3 The Supreme Court in Operation

Chapter 6





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