The American court system is composed of state and federal courts. State courts are made up of County and Circuit courts, District Courts of Appeals and a Supreme Court, while the federal court system consists of U.S. district courts, U.S. Court of Appeals, and a Supreme Court. Trial courts are also called circuits and district courts. Although federal courts are located in states, they only hear matters related to the federal government.
Hello and welcome to Azazel Podcast. In this series, I discuss the court system of the United States and how their jurisdiction differs. I am your host Dr. Bobb Rousseau. Without further ado, let’s begin.
The American court system is broken into state and federal courts. State courts are composed of County and Circuit courts, District Courts of Appeals and a Supreme Court whereas the federal court system is composed of U.S district courts, U.S Court of Appeals, and a Supreme Court. Circuits and District courts are also called trial courts. Note that although federal courts are located in states, they only hear matters that pertain to the federal government.
At both levels, the Supreme Court is the highest law of the land. At the state level, there is the State Supreme Court and at the federal level, especially in Washington, DC, there exists the Supreme Court of the United States also called SCOTUS. There are as many state Supreme Courts as there are states whereas there is only one SCOTUS. They handle different matters but a case from a state Supreme Court can be transferred to the Supreme Court of the United States.
State courts have broader jurisdiction whereas federal courts have limited jurisdiction. Both state and federal courts have diversity jurisdiction, which involves cases between two or more states or between citizens of different states if the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. In such an instance, plaintiffs decide with which court to file their cases. It costs more money and more time to file a lawsuit with a federal court.
In the federal court system, the president appoints the judges, typically for life, and the Senate confirms them whereas in the state court system, certain judges are elected while others are appointed either for a number of years or for life by the state governor.
When a plaintiff brings a case before a trial or state appellate courts; the judges are required to hear the case. However, the Supreme Court may choose or not to hear such a case. A Supreme court can refuse to hear cases that do not have state or national importance. State courts hear and decide on criminal and contract cases whereas the federal courts resolve cases where the federal government is a party, cases that violate the constitution, cases of bankruptcy, and cases of habeas corpus.
When Americans violate state laws, state courts have jurisdiction but when Americans violate federal law, federal courts have jurisdiction. State Supreme Courts do not resolve cases that violate a federal guideline or the constitution. As an example, opening someone else’s mail is a small offense but will be resolved, not by a state court but by a federal court.
State courts are the final deciders in criminal cases. However, there are criminal cases that fall under the jurisdiction of federal courts. For example; robbery is a criminal case that falls under the jurisdiction of state courts, but if such a robbery is perpetrated on a bank whose deposits are insured by a federal agency, federal courts have jurisdiction. Another example is that murder is a criminal case that a state court can hear but if the victim is a federal elected official or federal officer, SCOTUS has jurisdiction. State Supreme Courts interpret state laws but their interpretation may be appealed to the SCOTUS. For example, a state Supreme Court may allow abortion but any plaintiff can appeal that decision to SCOTUS if they deem it violating the federal constitution.
Jurisdiction is the legal authority of a court to hear or decide on a case. The jurisdiction of a higher court begins when that of a lower court ends. An appellate court does not have jurisdiction to hear and determine a case on which a lower court has not heard and decided yet. However, plaintiffs can request a case be heard by a Supreme Court without going through lower courts. The justices have the authority to hear the case or downright send it to lower courts for facts and discovery because state supreme courts and all the federal courts are not involved in the process of fact finding and discovery.
The information I provided is basic and general. Some states may have specific particularities. If you need to know more about the court system of your state, visit the official website of that specific state.
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