In the United States, the legal system that is the federal court, as well as the state court, has been curated in such a way that it is said to have a complex framework that is bestowed with the authority to govern the laws, regulations, and principles that are required to guide the country’s individuals, as a society as well as manage their interactions.
Not only the aforesaid, by the said judicial modus operandi relies on the fact that there exists a dual system that stands inclusive of federal and state jurisdiction, each with its own distinct set of courts, authorities, as well as legal workings.
A common law tradition, as the judiciary of the United States adheres to, to focus on the fact that court decisions from higher courts are to serve as precedents for lower courts to follow in similar cases, deems it highly essential.
The said method, in legal terms, is known as the principle of stare decisis, which aids in ensuring that there is consistency and predictability in any case that falls before their purview.
Diving in deeper, from having the parties present their cases before a judge or jury, followed by each side to showcase the evidence that substantiates their claims, to putting ahead arguments that can reinforce the support for their position, the judicial procedure seems easy but serves to be vehemently intense.
Not only do they have to play a crucial role in advocating for their clients but the fact that they navigate through the complex legal procedures, is the power vested with the legal professionals, such as attorneys.
Talking solely pertaining to the federal court system, which stands as one of the two elements of the United States judiciary, it was an arrangement of law brought to play by Article III of the United States Constitution, that consists of the United States Supreme Court as well as grants power to Congress for bringing into force lower federal courts, that stands inclusive of circuit and district courts.
On the same lines, the issues falling under the jurisdiction of federal courts include resolving any conflict or trouble pertaining to the United States Constitution, federal statutes, inter-state disputes, as well as any matter where an amount of $75,000 or above has been witnessed in disagreements between residents of different states.
1. The Different Federal Courts
Highlight the fact that within the federal framework, there are three principal types of federal courts are discernible which are 94 District Courts, which serve as trial courts, 13 Courts of Appeals, functioning as intermediary appellate courts as well and the United States Supreme Court, which is the ultimate authority for review, marks it extremely crucial for comprehending the working of the federal court system.
1.1 The District Courts
Acting as the fundamental trial courts within the federal judicial system are the district courts. Each of the aforesaid courts is presided over by at least one United States District Judge, who is nominated by the President and only after the assent of the Senate, will they be authorized for serving a lifelong term.
Running parallelly along the same lines is the fact that these courts are bestowed with the responsibility of overseeing trials for cases falling under the categories of both civil and criminal as per the federal jurisdiction.
The idea that the districts align with those of the United States Attorneys, who act as the primary legal representatives of the federal government in their respective regions is an essential branch of the aforementioned that must be highlighted.
Not only the aforementioned but the idea that the district court judges have multifaceted roles that not only stand inclusive of the fact that presiding over trials is essential but also managing court operations as well as providing oversight to court personnel acts as a key to unlocking the absolute potential of the district court mannerisms and processes.
On the same path, it deems it essential to mention that the tenure of the aforesaid judges of the federal court remains intact as long as their conduct upholds a standard of “good behaviour”, as established by the rules.
However, in case of any breach of the aforementioned rules as prescribed, the avenue for impeachment followed by subsequent removal by Congress serves as a mechanism of accountability, hence maintaining appropriate behaviour has been termed as a must for the judicial authorities.
The fact that the nationwide count of district court judges crosses the threshold of 670, reflects how extensive the coverage of these courts across the country marking it one of the main prongs of the federal court system.
Diving deeper, post understanding the tenure, to emphasize the duties of the said court deems it a must. One of the main responsibilities of the district court is to delegate authority to federal magistrate judges, who are those officials appointed by the said court through a majority vote of the judges.
They are not only bestowed with the power of adjudicating cases but also serve either for a full-time period of eight years or a part-time period of four years, with the option of reappointment after their term concludes.
Complementing the aforesaid concept is the fact that in criminal proceedings, from overseeing specific cases, authorizing the search, and arrest warrants, conducting initial hearings, to determining bail, ruling on certain motions like those pertaining to the suppression of evidence, as well as undertaking similar tasks, the role of the said magistrate judges is huge and crucial.
In terms of civil cases, the magistrates often manage a range of matters including pre-trial motions as well as the process of discovery, marking their presence equally essentially in this ambit as well.
Specialized trial courts under the ambit of the federal court system, have been brought into play so that identifying, handling, and resolving particular subject areas becomes faster and more convenient.
Within each federal district, numerous courts have been placed, of which a dedicated bankruptcy court that has the power to oversee proceedings related to bankruptcy cases is crucial.
Not only the aforesaid, but certain courts have the authorized jurisdiction that allows them to extend across the entire nation, addressing specific matters like tax disputes which is the United States Tax Court, any claim that is directed at the federal government, referring to the United States Court of Federal Claims, as well as any issue pertaining to the international trade matters, marking the United States Court of International Trade as its medium for solution.
1.2 The Circuit Courts
Post a verdict has been passed in a case by the district court under the umbrella of the federal court regime, in case, the judgement is not acceptable to a party, there exists the option for them to appeal the case to a United States court of appeal.
Divided into twelve federal circuits, each of which corresponds to different geographic regions in the system established by the United States.
Taking, this as an illustration, the Fifth Circuit of Courts stands inclusive of states like Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Thus, any appeal from district courts positioned in these states is directly sent to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the headquarters of which lies in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Not only this, but the fact the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals holds nationwide jurisdiction solely for specific matters of importance such as patent-related issues is also one of the key features of the said federal court.
Within each circuit court under the federal court system, the bench comprising judges differs from case to case. Ranging from six judges on the First Circuit to twenty-nine judges on the Ninth Circuit, the number of judges settled to hear a case depends on the facts and intensity of the same.
The said circuit court judges, similar to district court judges, are appointed by the president and can only serve lifelong terms if they are approved by the Senate.
Post the declaration of a pronouncement by the district court, the said judgement is always open for an option of appeal to the circuit court. Parallelly, it is also important to state that, through an interlocutory appeal, cases can be appealed prior to a final decision.
Generally, the first step in addressing appeals refers to the process of them being reviewed by a panel of the bench which is composed of three circuit court judges.
From the involved parties presenting their briefs to the court, to outlining arguments either in favour of assenting or negating the trial court’s decision, the process of an appeal lies really simple yet essential.
Post the aforementioned, the court has the authority to schedule an element known as oral arguments, during which attorneys present their arguments as well as respond to inquiries posed by the judges for the sake of yielding better clarity to bestow justice.
Specific appeals can be subjected to review by the entire circuit court through a procedure known as an en banc hearing, however, such a hearing is one of a kind.
It’s worth noting that compared to others in the federal court system, the Ninth Circuit follows a unique and separate process for a hearing in the aforesaid manner.
Elaborating on the specifics, the en banc judgments not only hold greater significance, in a general sense but are also typically deliberated only after a panel reviews the case, in the beginning.
The fact that after the said panel’s decision followed by the publication of the opinion, no succeeding panel is authorized to reverse the prior ruling, hence such a rule serves as a key to such hearings.
Along the same lines, it deems it highly important to put across that the original panel retains the option to propose the idea that the circuit court only conducts an en banc hearing to re-evaluate the initial panel’s decision of doing so.
To add further to the concept of the Federal Court or Circuit, a specific set of courts have been created for the responsibility of handling and managing appeals pertaining to distinct matters, revolving around veterans’ claims which are sent to the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims as well as military affairs, that is directed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
1.3 The Supreme Court of the United States
Standing as the apex institution within the American judiciary is the Supreme Court of the United States. The aforesaid court holds the authority to curate and render decisions on any kind of appeal pertaining to any case that has been presented in federal courts or the ones that have originated in state courts, the core of which revolves around federal law.
Taking as an illustration, if a case has the First Amendment’s freedom of speech as a matter of issue, and it has been resolved by a state’s highest court, which is technically the state supreme court, the option to appeal under the ambit of that particular case to the federal Supreme Court exists.
However, it is highly crucial to pinpoint the fact that if the above-said case’s judgement was determined solely on the basis of a state law resembling the First Amendment, the Supreme Court of the United States would not hold any jurisdiction over the case to perform the act of a review.
To emphasize the said concept further, after a decision has been pronounced by the circuit court or state supreme court case, either party associated with the aforementioned, has the power to exercise the option of an appeal to the Supreme Court, which is the main branch of the federal court.
Running as a contrast is the ideology that puts forth the fact that, unlike the appeals in circuit courts, the Supreme Court is generally not obligated to consider the appeal as it lies at their discretion completely.
In order for the Supreme Court of the United States to commence a review of any case, the parties of the particular case must submit a “writ of certiorari” to the court, petitioning for the case to be looked upon by them.
Only after the approval of the aforementioned writ, will the Supreme Court begin the review of the legal briefs, evidence associated as well as the manner in which the oral arguments were executed.
On the other hand, if the grant of the writ has been denied, the pronouncement passed by the lower court remains in effect.
What makes it interesting is the fact that the writ of certiorari is granted very rarely hence the high court only hears fewer than 1% of the appeals that have been positioned before it for a review.
On the same lines of thought, the said court chooses to address cases that are either marked by conflicting judgments across the nation regarding a specific issue or those that are characterized by significant errors.
Running on the aforesaid concept, it is essential to note that the authorities, pronouncing judgements by acting as the bench of presiding the court, are known as “justices” and they stand similar in terms of position with the other federal judges. This refers to the fact that they are nominated by the President, who is then ratified by the Senate, which leads them to serve a lifetime tenure.
The Supreme Court of the United States is composed of nine justices, where there is one chief justice complemented by eight associate justices.
Though the Constitution of the States does define any way of establishing specific prerequisites for who can qualify as Supreme Court justices, all the current members of the court hold legal backgrounds, with the majority of them comprising prior experience as circuit court judges.
Not only this but the fact that many justices have previously held positions as law professors also serves to be of utmost importance in elaborating on the same.
It is the responsibility of the chief justice to adopt the skill of overseeing the court’s administration, and such a duty is only bestowed to individuals who have undergone the selection process conducted by the President followed by seeking an approval of Congress in situations where the position becomes vacant.
To add to the same, the Supreme Court of the United States has been positioned in Washington, D.C. and the court’s annual term commences on the first Monday of October which typically extends through the summer, often concluding in late June.
2. A Dual Court System
To understand the concept in depth, it is important to emphasize the aspect of the jurisdiction of the court matters, which refers to the court’s authorization to preside over legal proceedings followed by rendering lawful judgments.
From the geographical boundaries within which a court operates to the consideration of whether the matter involves federal or state legal issues, the idea of jurisdiction comprises both the aforementioned factors which serve to be essential for a judgment to be valid.
On the same lines, it deems it essential to pinpoint that when initiating a legal action in a federal court, it’s necessary to put across that there has been a violation of federal law or the United States Constitution, meaning that the issue must consist of a “federal question.”
Not only this, but the federal courts handle a distinctive category of cases involving “diversity of citizenship,” which refers to those disputes, that involve individuals from different states complemented with the branch of potential claims that amount to over $75,000.
Running parallelly on a separate ideology altogether is the fact that, state courts hold the designation of courts with general jurisdiction, which emphasizes the aspect that individuals can raise claims rooted in either state or federal law, which stands exclusive of matters falling under the ambit of federal courts.
In either court, be it under the ambit of federal or state, a legal case is brought to play at its lowest tier which would either fall under a United States district court or a state trial court, as required.
It is a given rule that if any party is on the lines of dissatisfaction pertaining to the verdict granted at the said initial level, they have the authority and the right to exercise an option that revolves around challenging the pronouncement by making an appeal to a higher court.
The fact that this avenue of appeal can ultimately extend to the United States Supreme Court also serves as a key feature.
Complementing the aforementioned lies a fact pertaining to the existence of specific instances where these procedural norms take a different altogether. The exceptions are as follows:
- Retaining the original jurisdiction, the Supreme Court holds the authority to be the primary tribunal that allows them to preside over certain cases, standing inclusive of disputes involving any and all states. In these rare scenarios, the aforesaid apex court takes on the role of the first and only judicial body that has the power to adjudicate the matter.
- In a redistricting case, where a decision of a three-judge panel was witnessed, it alleged that due to the violations of the constitution, the case shall automatically escalate from the district court level to the United States Supreme Court. In this scenario, the Supreme Court is not only obligated to review the case but also shine a light on three other categories of cases that possess an obligatory entitlement to be heard by the apex court in the said country.
3. The Judges Of The Federal Court
Diving deeper into the concept of the federal court system, to put emphasis on the judges who preside over them serves to be of utmost essentiality.
3.1 Appointment of the Judges in The Federal Court
As per Article III of the United States Constitution, the President has the authority to designate individuals, either gender, who shall be bestowed with the duty to fulfil roles within the federal District Courts, the Courts of Appeals, as well as the United States Supreme Court.
As a next step in the process, these nominations are submitted by the President to the United States Senate, where they undergo a method known as “advice and consent.”
This aforementioned refers to the idea that an individual who has been nominated for a position in a court position is not authorized to take on their duties and responsibilities of the same until they have received assent from the Senate.
What makes the said stand out even more, is the essence that the President is bestowed with the authority to make temporary arrangements, which are called “recess” appointments, when the Senate is not in session.
3.2 The Qualifications for Becoming A Federal Court Judge
Though the United States Constitution does not underline any guidelines or lay out any explicit criteria for individuals to determine whether they qualify to hold the position of a federal judge, there are numerous informal as well as uncodified requirements that an individual must fulfil in order to not only be nominated by the President but also approved by the Senate.
As stated above, there are several factors that an individual must have to stand eligible for the post of a judge, however the most important of those is the need to demonstrate a profound understanding of both legal principles as well as the United States Constitution.
Emphasizing further, individuals who are attorneys, current or former state or lower court judges, or law professors are generally the ones who are more frequently chosen to take up these roles.
3.3 The Selection Of Federal Judicial Nominees
From the senators of the United States Senate to the representatives of the House of Representatives, authorities who belong to the same political party as the President, or share ideological alignment with the President, have the power and authorization to put forth suggestions for filling vacant positions within the federal judiciary in their respective states.
Not only this, but the aforesaid also stands applicable to vacancies that are witnessed in the Court of Appeals that holds jurisdiction over their said state.
Evaluated by both the Department of Justice and the White House General Counsel’s office, these suggestions are not only taken into account but also scrutinized for validity and based on their assessments, and recommendations, they are then presented to the President.
Standing as a apex decision maker, is the President who makes the final determination on the appointments, even though the suggestions and evaluations have been provided.
3.4 The Importance Of Federal Court Judges in the Fight for Civil Rights
Holding authoritative jurisdiction over matters that significantly impact the lives of all citizens of the United States, is the federal court system, which spans from district courts to the United States Supreme Court.
From fundamental civil rights, religious liberties, voting privileges, and affirmative action, to life-or-death consequences, the cases handled by the federal court are not only vast but of great importance and value.
Diving deeper, it has been seen that, throughout history, the aforesaid courts have consistently stood as a crucial avenue for advocating as well as safeguarding the civil rights of individuals residing in the United States.
It is due to the said reason, that it deems it imperative to ensure that the individuals selected and confirmed for lifetime appointments to federal judicial positions have qualities pertaining to impartiality, equality, and fairness as well as refrain from harbouring intentions to advance an extremist or heavily skewed ideological stance.
Federal Courts, which serve to be one of the two branches that make up the entire judicial system of the United States, are not only vehemently important but also an intriguing aspect when it comes to the idea of law.
From understanding the essence of the system, to how the judges of the federal courts are appointed as well as bestowed with duties, the said regime has developed the modus operandi of the legal arena in the United States to another level.