Federal judiciary of the United States

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The federal judiciary of the United States is one of the three branches of the federal government of the United States organized under the United States Constitution and laws of the federal government. Article III of the Constitution requires the establishment of a Supreme Court and permits the Congress to create other federal courts, and place limitations on their jurisdiction. Article III federal judges are appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate to serve until they resign, are impeached and convicted, retire, or die.[ citation needed ]

Federal government of the United States National government of the United States

The federal government of the United States is the national government of the United States, a federal republic in North America, composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories and several island possessions. The federal government is composed of three distinct branches: legislative, executive and judicial, whose powers are vested by the U.S. Constitution in the Congress, the president and the federal courts, respectively. The powers and duties of these branches are further defined by acts of Congress, including the creation of executive departments and courts inferior to the Supreme Court.

Constitution of the United States Supreme law of the United States of America

The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. The Constitution, originally comprising seven articles, delineates the national frame of government. Its first three articles embody the doctrine of the separation of powers, whereby the federal government is divided into three branches: the legislative, consisting of the bicameral Congress ; the executive, consisting of the president ; and the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court and other federal courts. Articles Four, Five and Six embody concepts of federalism, describing the rights and responsibilities of state governments, the states in relationship to the federal government, and the shared process of constitutional amendment. Article Seven establishes the procedure subsequently used by the thirteen States to ratify it. It is regarded as the oldest written and codified national constitution in force.

Law of the United States Overview of United States law

The law of the United States comprises many levels of codified and uncodified forms of law, the supreme of which is the United States Constitution, the foundation of the federal government of the United States. The Constitution sets out the boundaries of federal law, which consists of Acts of Congress, treaties ratified by the Senate, regulations promulgated by the executive branch, and case law originating from the federal judiciary. The United States Code is the official compilation and codification of general and permanent federal statutory law.

Contents

Courts

The federal courts are composed of three levels of courts. They are listed below.

The United States district courts (one in each of the 94 federal judicial districts, and three territorial courts) are general federal trial courts, although in certain cases Congress has diverted original jurisdiction to specialized courts, such as the Court of International Trade, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Alien Terrorist Removal Court, or to Article I or Article IV tribunals. The district courts usually have jurisdiction to hear appeals from such tribunals (unless, for example, appeals are to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.)

United States district court type of court of the United States federal court system

The United States district courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. Both civil and criminal cases are filed in the district court, which is a court of law, equity, and admiralty. There is a United States bankruptcy court associated with each United States district court. Each federal judicial district has at least one courthouse, and many districts have more than one. The formal name of a district court is "the United States District Court for" the name of the district—for example, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

United States federal judicial district

For purposes of the federal judicial system, Congress has divided the United States into judicial districts. There are 94 federal judicial districts, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Three territories of the United States — the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands — have district courts that hear federal cases, including bankruptcy cases. The breakdown of what is in each judicial district is at 28 U.S.C. §§ 81131.

United States Court of International Trade

The United States Court of International Trade, formerly the United States Customs Court, and before that the Board of General Appraisers, is an Article III court, with full powers in law and equity. The Customs Court Act of 1980 replaced the old United States Customs Court with the United States Court of International Trade. The Court has nine sitting Judges, as well as Senior Judges. The Court sits in New York City, although it is authorized to sit elsewhere, including in foreign nations.

The United States courts of appeals are the intermediate federal appellate courts. They operate under a system of mandatory review which means they must hear all appeals of right from the lower courts. In some cases, Congress has diverted appellate jurisdiction to specialized courts, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.

United States courts of appeals post-1891 U.S. appellate circuit courts

The United States courts of appeals or circuit courts are the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal court system. A court of appeals decides appeals from the district courts within its federal judicial circuit, and in some instances from other designated federal courts and administrative agencies.

The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISCR) is a U.S. federal court whose sole purpose is to review denials of applications for electronic surveillance warrants by the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The FISCR was established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and consists of a panel of three judges. Like the FISC, the FISCR is not an adversarial court; rather, the only party to the court is the federal government, although other parties may submit briefs as amici curiae if they are made aware of the proceedings. Papers are filed and proceedings are held in secret. Records of the proceedings are kept classified, though copies of the proceedings with sensitive information redacted are very occasionally made public. The government may appeal decisions of the FISCR to the Supreme Court, which hears appeals on a discretionary basis.

The Supreme Court of the United States is the court of last resort. It generally hears appeals from the courts of appeals and sometimes state courts, operating under discretionary review, which means that the Supreme Court can choose which cases to hear, by granting writs of certiorari. There is therefore generally no basic right of appeal that extends automatically all the way to the Supreme Court. In a few situations (like lawsuits between state governments or some cases between the federal government and a state) it sits as a court of original jurisdiction.

Supreme Court of the United States Highest court in the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States of America, established pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution in 1789. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal and state court cases that involve a point of federal law, and original jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases, including suits between two or more states and those involving ambassadors. The Court holds the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the Constitution. Presidential directives can be struck down by the Court for violating either the Constitution or statutory law. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The Court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide non-justiciable political questions.

The supreme court is the highest court within the hierarchy of courts in many legal jurisdictions. Other descriptions for such courts include court of last resort, apex court, and highcourt of appeal. Broadly speaking, the decisions of a supreme court are not subject to further review by any other court. Supreme courts typically function primarily as appellate courts, hearing appeals from decisions of lower trial courts, or from intermediate-level appellate courts.

State court (United States) court of a U.S. state

In the United States, a state court has jurisdiction over disputes with some connection to a U.S. state. State courts handle the vast majority of civil and criminal cases in the United States; the much smaller in case load and personnel, United States federal courts, handle different types of cases.

Other tribunals

Besides these federal courts, described as Article III courts, there are other adjudicative bodies described as Article I or Article IV courts in reference to the article of the Constitution from which the court's authority stems.

There are a number of Article I courts with appellate jurisdiction over specific subject matter including the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, as well as Article I courts with appellate jurisdiction over specific geographic areas such as the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. The Article I courts with original jurisdiction over specific subject matter include the bankruptcy courts (for each district court), the immigration courts, the Court of Federal Claims, and the Tax Court.

United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims

The United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is a federal court of record that was established under Article I of the United States Constitution, and is thus referred to as an Article I tribunal (court). The court has exclusive national jurisdiction to provide independent federal judicial oversight and review of final decisions of the Board of Veterans' Appeals.

United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is an Article I court that exercises worldwide appellate jurisdiction over members of the United States Armed Forces on active duty and other persons subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The court is composed of five civilian judges appointed for 15-year terms by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the United States Senate. The court reviews decisions from the intermediate appellate courts of the services: the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.

District of Columbia Court of Appeals highest court of the District of Columbia, in the United States, equivalent to a state supreme court

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals is the highest court of the District of Columbia. Established in 1970, it is equivalent to a state supreme court, except that its authority is derived from the United States Congress rather than from the inherent sovereignty of the states. The court is located in the former District of Columbia City Hall building at Judiciary Square. The D.C. Court of Appeals should not be confused with the District's federal appellate court, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The D.C. Court of Appeals and the Superior Court of the District of Columbia comprise the District's local court system.

Article IV courts include the High Court of American Samoa and territorial courts such as the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, District Court of Guam, and District Court of the Virgin Islands.

High Court of American Samoa highest court of American Samoa, after the U.S. Supreme Court

The High Court of American Samoa is a Samoan court and the highest court below the United States Supreme Court in American Samoa. The Court is located in the capital of Fagatogo. It consists of one chief justice and one associate justice, appointed by the United States Secretary of the Interior, holding office during "good behavior" and removable for cause.

The United States territorial courts are tribunals established in territories of the United States by the United States Congress, pursuant to its power under Article Four of the United States Constitution, the Territorial Clause. Most United States territorial courts are defunct because the territories under their jurisdiction have become states or been retroceded.

District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands United States territorial court

The District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands is a federal territorial court whose jurisdiction comprises the United States-affiliated Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). It was established by Act of Congress in 1977, pursuant to an international agreement between the United States and the CNMI that brought the CNMI under United States sovereignty. The court began hearing cases in January 1978. The court regularly sits in Saipan but may sit elsewhere in the CNMI. The court has the same jurisdiction as United States District Courts, including diversity jurisdiction and bankruptcy jurisdiction. However, the District Court is not actually a true U.S. District Court, and because of that its judge is appointed for a 10-year term instead of for life. Appeals are taken to the Ninth Circuit.

Judges

Federal judges, like Supreme Court justices, are appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate to serve until they resign, are impeached and convicted, retire, or die.

In April 2013, about 10 percent of federal seats were vacant, with 85 of 856 positions unfilled and 4 vacancies on the prestigious Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. [1] The high vacancy rate has been attributed to politics, particularly Senate filibustering of potential appointees by Senators. [1] In many cases there is no nominee for the position; however, the Senate has a tradition of senatorial courtesy in which nominees are only considered if the home senators approve. [2] In May 2013 Congressional Research Service published a paper analyzing the vacancies and appointment process. [3]

Under Article I of the federal Constitution, Congress also has the power to establish other tribunals, which are usually quite specialized, within the executive branch to assist the president in the execution of his or her powers. Judges who staff them normally serve terms of fixed duration, as do magistrate judges who assist Article III judges. Judges in Article I tribunals attached to executive branch agencies are referred to as administrative law judges (ALJs) and are generally considered to be part of the executive branch even though they exercise quasi-judicial powers. With limited exceptions, they cannot render final judgments in cases involving life, liberty, and private property rights, but may make preliminary rulings subject to review by an Article III judge.

Administration

The Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution, although it is itself created by, and required to follow - not interpret - the US Constitution, as placing some additional restrictions on the federal courts. For example, the doctrines of mootness, ripeness, and standing prohibit district courts from issuing advisory opinions. Other doctrines, such as the abstention doctrine and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine limit the power of lower federal courts to disturb rulings made by state courts. The Erie doctrine requires federal courts to apply substantive state law to claims arising from state law (which may be heard in federal courts under supplemental or diversity jurisdiction). In difficult cases, the federal courts must either guess as to how a court of that state would decide the issue or, if that state accepts certified questions from federal courts when state law is unclear or uncertain, ask an appellate court of that state to decide the issue.

Notably, the only federal court that can issue proclamations of federal law that bind state courts is the Supreme Court itself. Decisions of the lower federal courts, whether on issues of federal law or state law (i.e., the question was not certified to a state court), are persuasive but not binding authority in the states in which those federal courts sit. [4]

Some commentators assert that another limitation upon federal courts is executive nonacquiescence in judicial decisions, where the executive simply refuses to accept them as binding precedent. [5] [6] In the context of administration of U.S. internal revenue laws by the Internal Revenue Service, nonacquiescences (published in a series of documents called Actions on Decisions) "generally do not affect the application of stare decisis or the rule of precedent". The IRS "will recognize these principles and generally concede issues accordingly during administrative proceedings." In rare cases, however, the IRS may continue to litigate a legal issue in a given circuit even where the IRS has already lost a case on that issue in that circuit. [7]

History

The Articles of Confederation provided a clear basis for the initial establishment of United States of America judicial authority by Congress prior to the Constitution. This authority, enumerated by Article IX, allowed for the establishment of United States jurisdiction in the trial of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, final appeals from state court decisions in all cases of captures of enemy ships, last resort for resolution of disputes between two or more states (including disputes over borders and jurisdiction), and final determination of controversies between private parties arising from conflicting land grants issued by two or more states prior to settlement of which state actually has jurisdiction over the territory. The Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture was the first United States Court established by the United States. Additional United States courts were established to adjudicate border disputes between the states of Connecticut and Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts, Georgia and South Carolina. Lastly, a United States court was established for the Northwest Territory.

When the Constitution came into force in 1789, Congress gained the authority to establish the federal judicial system as a whole. Only the Supreme Court was established by the Constitution itself. The Judiciary Act of 1789 created the first inferior (i.e., lower) federal courts established pursuant to the Constitution and provided for the first Article III judges.

Virtually all U.S. law schools offer an elective course that focuses specifically on the powers and limitations of U.S. federal courts, with coverage of topics such as justiciability, abstention doctrines, the abrogation doctrine, and habeas corpus. [8]

See also

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References

  1. 1 2 The Editorial Board. (2013). Courts Without Judges. NYTimes.
  2. Wheeler R. (2013) What's Behind all Those Judicial Vacancies Without Nominees?. Brookings Institution.
  3. McMillion BJ. (2013). President Obama's First-Term U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations: An Analysis and Comparison with Presidents Since Reagan. CRS.
  4. People v. Leonard, 40 Cal. 4th 1370, 1416 (2007) (Ninth Circuit decisions do not bind Supreme Court of California).
  5. Gregory C. Sisk, Litigation with the Federal Government (Philadelphia: American Law Institute, 2006), 418-425.
  6. Robert J. Hume, How Courts Impact Federal Administrative Behavior (New York: Routledge, 2009), 92-106.
  7. Mitchell Rogovin & Donald L. Korb, "The Four R's Revisited: Regulations, Rulings, Reliance, and Retroactivity in the 21st Century: A View From Within", 46 Duquesne Law Review 323, 366-367 (2008).
  8. Michael L. Wells, A Litigation-Oriented Approach to Teaching Federal Courts , 53 St. Louis U. L.J. 857 (2009).

Further reading