STATE AND LOCAL COURTS
There are about 30,000 state court judges in the US
Selected in four ways:
Popular election (most states)
Election by the legislature
Appointment by the governor
Combination of appointment and popular election.
Terms: limited terms
Most legal cases in the U.S. are resolved in state courts
Crimes under state laws
Family law, inheritance, personal injury, property, traffic,
State constitutional issues
And most cases involving federal law
Decide cases involving local law (like littering or parking)
State courts decide cases of state law
Criminal, family, contract, juvenile law
Three types of state courts
Minor courts (justice courts, municipal courts, magistrate courts, inferior trial courts)
Specialized to deal with specific types of legal issues
Family courts, traffic courts, small claims courts, probate courts (inheritance)
General trial court (superior court, county court, district court, court of common pleas)
Civil or criminal
Appeals Courts (state supreme court)
Article III gives Congress the power to create lower courts including federal district courts, federal courts of appeals and US Court of International Trade.
"The 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."
Federal courts have limited jurisdiction
They hear cases with questions about federal law or federal constitution
Sometimes here cases that deal with state law if parties are from different states and large amount of money is in question.
Disputes between states
Treaties with foreign nations
Admiralty and maritime
Handle more than 375,000 cases a year and more than 1 million bankruptcy petitions.
There are 852 federal judges in the US
Federal judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate
Serve for life (unless they resign, retire or are impeached)
FEDERAL DISTRICT COURTS
There are 94 federal judicial districts
Some states have one (like Wyoming, Kansas, Minnesota etc.)
Others have many (like California, Texas, Oklahoma etc.)
They handle both criminal and civil cases
Also bankruptcy and tax courts
Each district has at least one US District Judge
Appointed by President, confirmed by Senate for a life term.
There are over 670 district judges nationwide
Trial courts are grouped into 12 regional circuits
First: Maine, NH, MA
Second: NY, CT, VT
Third: PA, NJ, DE
Ninth: Largest, WA, MT, ID, OR, NV, AZ, AK, HI
Each circuit court has multiple judges (First = 6, Ninth = 29)
Appointed by president, confirmed by Senate, serve for life.
Appeals to Circuit Court first handed by a panel (3 circuit court judges)
Parties file "briefs" to the court arguing why trial court's decision should be "affirmed" or "reversed"
After briefs are filed, the court will schedule "oral argument" - lawyers make arguments and answer judge's questions.
Each has a federal court of appeals (U.S Circuit Court)
Handle appeals from within the circuit to decide whether the law was applied correctly.
Also special Court of Appeals that hear particular topics
International trade, patent law, money claims against fed. govt., veterans issues.
Justice for armed services
Article 1, Section 8 gives Congress authority to "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces."
Overseen by the president as commander in chief of armed forces.
Regulation called Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)
Similar to criminal codes in states but also has punishment for specific military conduct (like failure to perform an official duty or refusing to obey a lawful order)
Violations of UCMJ heard in proceedings called courts-martial trials
Trials consist of judges and attorneys drawn from legal officers of military branch in which violation occurred
US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
Panel of five civilian judges appointed by the president for 15 year terms.
Cases from this court can be appealed to the Supreme Court
Operate on Native American reservations
Broad range of criminal and civil cases involving both Native Americans and non-Native Americans
Jurisdiction is based on location of offense (on or off reservation) status of plaintiffs and defendants (Native American or not)
Federal courts have jurisdiction over many felonies committed by Native Americans on the reservation
Limited to imprisonment for less than a year
And fine less than $5000
Tribal courts cannot prosecute non-Native Americans for crimes committed on the reservation.
Primary function is to resolve disputes about the meaning of federal law and the Constitution.
Must make sure federal law is uniform
Power of Judicial Review (deciding whether federal and state laws are constitutional
Right given in 1803 by Marbury v. Madison
Also decides what a federal law means
Must wait for a trial to decide
Article III, Section 2
Almost 9,000 cases are appealed to Supreme Court every year.
Only 80 are decided each term (less than 1%)
Cases where the courts have decided the same issue in different ways
Cases where the decision will have a national impact (abortion, privacy, death penalty etc.)
Business cases that involve billions of dollars.
More than 1/2 are people appealing criminal convictions when raises a question about federal law or the U.S. Constitution and answered differently by lower courts.
How cases are decided
Petitioners ask for appellate court to grant a writ of certiorari
Writ of certiorari = Supreme Court requests records from inferior court
Rule of Four - If four of the nine justices agree to hear the case then the petition for certiorari is granted and case is schedule
Cases involving representatives of foreign governments
Certain cases in which a state is a party