The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. Article III of the U.S. Constitution created the Supreme Court and authorized Congress to pass laws establishing a system of lower courts. In the federal court system’s present form, 94 district level trial courts and 13 courts of appeals sit below the Supreme Court, and they are called the U.S. Courts of Appeals. The 94 federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a court of appeals.
United States district courts and courts of appeals often prescribe local rules governing practice and procedure. Such rules must be consistent with both Acts of Congress and the Federal Rules of Practice and Procedure, and may only be prescribed after notice and an opportunity for public comment. A court’s authority to prescribe local rules is governed by both statute and the Federal Rules of Practice and Procedure.
Federal courts hear criminal, civil, and bankruptcy cases. And once a case is decided, it can often be appealed.
Most of the cases are decided based on written briefs alone, many cases are selected for an “oral argument” before the court. Oral argument in the court of appeals is a structured discussion between the appellate lawyers and the panel of judges focusing on the legal principles in dispute. Each side is given a short time — usually about 15 minutes — to present arguments to the court.
Most appeals are final. The court of appeals decision usually will be the final word in the case, unless it sends the case back to the trial court for additional proceedings, or the parties ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
A litigant who loses in a federal court of appeals, or in the highest court of a state, may file a petition for a “writ of certiorari,” which is a document asking the Supreme Court to review the case. The Supreme Court, however, does not have to grant review. The Court typically will agree to hear a case only when it involves an unusually important legal principle, or when two or more federal appellate courts have interpreted a law differently.
RULES AND PROCEDURES
- FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE
- FEDERAL RULES OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
- FEDERAL RULES OF EVIDENCE
- FEDERAL RULES OF BANKRUPTCY PROCEDURE
- FEDERAL RULES OF APPELLATE PROCEDURE