United States Courts
The United States court system is made up of several levels; they are the Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals, and the U.S. District Courts. Initially, as the founding fathers of our country envisioned things, there would be only a single Supreme Court that would rule exclusively, but over time the needs of the government changed, and this new system evolved.
Thankfully the original language of the Constitution allowed a loophole for Congress to create new courts, but they had to be inferior to the Supreme Court. Congress ultimately has complete power over these lower courts to create them and eliminate them as needed. Originally, Congress created only one court per state, but as populations grew the need for more courts arose, and they added them by county when required. Each state has at least one but is limited to four.
District courts reside in each state within many counties. All federal cases are tried within district courts with a judge and jury deciding the verdict. There are 94 distinct district courts in our nation.
Cases must first be held in a district court. This stipulation is called “original jurisdiction,” and applies to both civil and criminal cases.
A civil case is where a person or company has an issue with another person or organization that they cannot resolve among themselves, and one party sues the other. A criminal case is where someone is accused of breaking the law and must defend themselves and prove they are innocent.
In 1968 Congress created Magistrate Judges who are federal judges who serve a term of only eight years. They assist the court system by handing initial processing matters like setting bail, issuing search warrants and helping other judges.
Court of Appeals
The twelve circuit courts of appeals were created by Congress to spread out the workload overwhelming the Supreme Court.
The appellate courts do not try any cases, they merely review district court cases and determine if the verdict was correct or not. An appeal is the second chance for many criminal cases where the decision may be in question. The losing party in a case requests an appeal through this court system.
The U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court resides in Washington, D.C. and is the highest court in our nation. This court is the only court created explicitly by the Constitution of the United States.
Cases end up in the Supreme Court when a district court cannot decide how to interpret the law and apply it correctly to the situation. Matters are only granted entry to the Supreme Court if four of the nine justices presiding there agree that it has merit.
Article 1 Courts
There is also another type of court system, not directly related to the judicial branch of government. They are called Article 1 Courts and were created by Congress to handle specific cases that deal with topics like veteran claims, tax issues, and the military.