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Federal Courts  

Last Updated: Mar 31, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Introduction to the Federal Courts

The United States federal courts make up the judicial branch of the U.S. government, created under Article III of the United States Constitution.

  • U.S. Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice and eight associate justices. The Supreme Court hears a limited number of the cases each year; approximately 10,000 petitions are filed with the Court in the course of a Term. The Term of the Court begins, by law, on the first Monday in October and lasts until the first Monday in October of the next year.
  • The United States district courts are the trial courts of the federal court system. Within limits, the district courts have jurisdiction to hear nearly all types of federal cases, including both civil and criminal matters. 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 Court of International Trade addresses cases involving international trade and customs issues. The US Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction over a variety of claims against the United States including disputes over federal contracts, unlawful taking of private property, and money damages.
  • The 12 regional circuit courts hear appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. The circuit courts also have nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws and cases decided by the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims.

This research guide contains information on hardcopy books found in our library and links to both free and subscription electronic resources available on the Internet.


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