The Federal Court system
United States Supreme Court
The United States Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight associate justices. At its discretion, and within certain guidelines established by Congress, the Supreme Court each year hears a limited number of cases it is asked to decide. Those cases may begin in the federal or state courts, and they usually involve important questions about the Constitution or federal law. For more information about the Supreme Court, visit:
United States Court of Appeals
The 94 U.S. judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a United States Court of Appeals. A Court of Appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals of specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws and cases decided by the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims.
United States District Courts
The United States District Courts are the trial courts of the federal court system. Within limits set by Congress and the Constitution, the District Courts have jurisdiction to hear nearly all categories of federal cases, including both civil and criminal matters. There are 94 federal judicial districts, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Three territories of the United States – the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands – have district courts that hear federal cases, including bankruptcy cases.
There are two special trial courts that have nationwide jurisdiction over certain types of cases. The Court of International Trade addresses cases involving international trade and custom issues. The United States Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction over most claims for money damages against the United States, disputes over federal contracts, unlawful “takings” of private property by the federal government, and a variety of other claims against the United States.