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Legal Studies

Structure of US Courts

Finding court cases can be extremely difficult if you do not have a basic understanding of the U.S. Court System and its structure. This section provides basic information about the structure of U.S. Federal and State Courts.

The country is divided into 94 federal judicial districts. Each judicial district has a U.S. district, or federal trial court. The trial courts are where federal cases are tried, witnesses testify, and juries serve.

Each of the 94 districts lie in one of 12 regional circuits. Each circuit has a court of appeals. If you lose a case in a district court, you can ask the court of appeals to review the case.

 The Supreme Court of the United States, in Washington, D.C., is the highest court in the nation. If you lose a case in the court of appeals (or, sometimes, in a state supreme court), you can ask the Supreme Court to hear your appeal. The Supreme Court hears only a very small percentage of the cases it is asked to review.

United States Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in the federal judicial system. The Supreme Court consists of one Supreme CourtChief Justice and 8 Associate Justices. Only the President of the United States may nominate justices, and only the Senate may appoint them to the bench. Here are some important things to remember about the U.S. Supreme Court:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court hears a limited number of the cases each year.
  • Supreme Court cases come from either the federal or state court systems.
  • Supreme Court cases usually involve important constitutional issues.
  • Supreme Court cases are binding on all other courts.

 

Appellate Courts

 

There are 12 regional circuits, each of which has a United States court of appeals. The appeals courts hear cases from the following:

  • District courts
  • Federal administrative agencies
  • Patent cases
  • International Trade
  • Federal Bankruptcy

Listed below are links to the websites of the 12 regional circuit websites:

U.S. District Courts (Trial Courts)

There are 94 federal judicial districts, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The district courts have jurisdiction over all catergories of federal cases, including both civil and criminal matters.

Note! Cases tried in lower courts are usually NOT published.

State Courts

No two state court systems are exactly alike. However, most state court systems are made up of the following:

  • Trial courts (or Circuit Courts)
  • Appeals Courts (in many, but not all, states)
  • Supreme Courts (called by various names)

For information about the Judicial Branch in Louisiana, visit:

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