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American Government Part 3: Judiciary

Joshua Hurtado graduated from the National Paralegal College with an Associates degree in paralegal studies.

The Judiciary

The third and final official branch of government is the judiciary. It is important to note that the only court specifically mentioned in the Constitution is the Supreme Court of the United States. However, article three of the Constitution gives Congress the power to create other courts, however, none of these courts can be above the Supreme Court.

Kinds of Courts: District Courts

It is important to note that there are different kinds of federal courts however, today I am going to briefly cover the federal district, appellate, and the Supreme Court.

There are district courts all over the country and in many cases there is more than one district court per state. These courts are trial level courts. This means that, with some exceptions, if someone wants to file a case with the federal courts they will have to first file it in federal district court.

These courts hear the case, gather the facts, come to a conclusion regarding the facts in controversy (either through a jury or a judge on the bench), and then a verdict is reached and a judgement entered. However, just because a district court decides one way or another on a matter does not mean that every other district court must follow the same ruling. This does change with the other courts that will be covered.

Appellate Courts

The next level of federal courts are the Circuit Courts of Appeals. If a case goes through the district court system and one of the parties decides to appeal a case, this is the next level of courts the case would go to. Since it is an appellate court they both function and are organized differently than district court are. The Circuit Court system is divided up into geographical regions that span several states where as the federal district courts do not.

Since the Circuit Courts are a higher level court than the district courts their decisions are binding on the district courts within their geographical jurisdiction. In addition to their decisions being binding they are also able to overturn the decisions of the district courts within their jurisdiction.

Because the Circuit Courts are appellate courts, they generally can not allow new facts about a case to influence their decision. This is because all the facts should be brought in at the trial court level. What the Circuit Courts will be looking at is how the law was applied to the facts that both sides presented in court. The best way to win in an appellate decision is to prove that the lower court errored in its application of the law given the facts that came in.

If you would like to know what the geographical jurisdictional boundaries are for the Circuit Courts I have that listed out in the section following the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is unique in several ways. First off, it is the only court specifically named in the Untied States Constitution. As it's name suggests it is the highest court in the country.

For a case to make it's way to the Supreme Court is generally a long process with very little chance of it actually making it there with some exceptions. However, the case must usually be heard first in a federal district court, then it has to be appealed to the Circuit Court level, only after that can a case then be appealed to the Supreme Court. One of the unique aspects of the Supreme court is that it has broad authority to pick and choose which cases it will hear. The Supreme Court generally receives somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000-8,000 appeals called writs of certiorari and the court generally agrees to hear less than 100 of them. So every time you hear someone say that they will fight this all the way to the Supreme Court, it is extremely likely that it won't make it to the Supreme Court. But, having a case decided there is can be extremely rewarding if the justices find in your favor because the decision is binding in every state and in every federal court and it is the only court that is able to make a decision which is binding on both the federal and state courts.

Circuit Courts: Jurisdiction

1st Circuit:

Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island

2nd Circuit:

New York, Vermont, and Connecticut

3rd Circuit:

Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the U.S. Virgin Islands

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4th Circuit:

West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina

5th Circuit:

Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi

6th Circuit:

Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan

7th Circuit:

Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana

8th Circuit:

North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota , Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas

9th Circuit:

Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, and Arizona

10th Circuit:

Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma

11th Circuit:

Alabama, Georgia, and Florida


Binding Decisions:

Supreme Court Information:

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