American Government - The Federal Courts

Read Article III of the Constitution

What is the judicial power?
Who has the judicial power?
What federal courts must exist under the Constitution? [Supreme Court]
What judges must sit on Supreme Court [Chief Justice]
But what other courts can be created? [Inferior courts]
Who can create the inferior courts? [Congress]
The first bill ever introduced to the Senate: Judiciary Act of 1789
* Creates five associate judges of Supreme Court
* Three circuit courts - two Supreme Court justices and one district court judge
* 13 federal district courts
Congress has given courts power to:
* interpret laws
* administer justice according to Constitution

Congress has created two types of federal courts:
* constitutional courts - those courts created by Congress under its authority under Article III
- the judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate
- appointment is for life and serve “during good behavior”
- courts include: District Courts, Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit, Court of International Trade, Surpeme Court
- Article III establishes the jurisdiction of constitutional courts
--> jurisdiction: the right of a court to hear and decide a case
- Constitutional courts have jurisdiction when the subject matter is:
(a) the Constitution
(b) federal laws and treaties
(c) admiralty and maritime matters
- Constitutional courts have jurisdiction when parties include:
(a) ambassadors, foreign ministers, consuls
(b) the United States
(c) controversy between two states
(d) between two citizens of different states
(e) between a state or citizen and a foreign government
--> 11th Amendment - a stated cannot be sued in federal court by its own citizens, by the citizens of another state, or by a foreign country
* legislative courts - no jurisdiction under Article III; created by Congress to try or to handle appeals from specific cases arising from the powers granted to Congress
- judges are appointed by the president
- serve a fixed term of 10-15 years
- courts include: Tax Court, Claims Court, Territorial Courts, Courts of the District of Columbia, Court of Military Appeals, Court of Veterans Appeals

Federal Judges and Justices

à all federal courts presided over by federal judges

à federal judges are the chief decision-makers of the federal judiciary

Nominating – by the President and confirmed by the Senate

Article III, Section 1

Once appointed, they serve for life, unless they choose to retire

Judges may be impeached

President makes professional and political considerations in his choice of judges

-         American Bar Association (est. 1878)

o       Committee on the Federal Judiciary has four-point scale: “exceptionally well-qualified” to “not qualified”

-         President usually takes their choice

-         From own political party


The Judicial Process (Article III, Section 2)

The majority of federal cases are either civil or criminal cases

civil case – the plaintiff feels he has been wronged by the defendant and is seeking to recover damages; usually involve a dispute over a federal statute, personal injury, property damage, or contract

criminal case – government is the plaintiff and seed to bring some legal action against the defendant because he has wronged society through his behavior; involve illegal activity (narcotics, embezzlement, fraud, larceny, immigration)


Procedure in a trial court

civil and criminal cases begin with a trial

trial- an official examination of available evidence in a court of law

most federal trials are heard in the U.S. District Courts, the most active of the federal judiciary courts

district courts have original jurisdiction, the right of a court to first hear and decide a case.

most federal case “originate” in district court

district courts handle about 80% of all federal cases per year (300K cases)

13 district courts map – p. 143

there are 90 district courts in the 50 states and the District of Columbia



Article III, Section 2 – citizens are guaranteed the right to trial by jury in the federal courts

The only exception is the impeachment of a federal official, which is tried by the Senate

District courts use two types of juries: grand juries and trial juries

In criminal cases, a grand jury of 13 to 23 people is assembled to “examine the evidence presented by the prosecutor to determine whether there is sufficient evidence against the accused to try a case”

If the GJ believes there is enough evidence to warrant a trial, it will issue a formal accusation against the accused called an indictment

If the GJ finds insufficient evidence, it will hand down an acquittal, which frees the accused immediately

A trial jury of 6-12 people from the federal district, hears the case in court.

After hearing the evidence, they issue a verdict of “guilty” or “not guilty”

The right of an individual to both a grand jury and a trial jury in federal cases in protected by the 5th and 6th amendments, respectively

the right to trial by jury in a federal civil cases involving more than $20 is guaranteed by the 7th Amendment



When jurors “hear a case,” they listen to the presentation of evidence.

evidence – material presented as proof at a trial

may be either direct (eyewtiness), circumstantial (conclusions deduced from facts of the case), or demonstrative (objects that relate to the case, like a gun with fingerprints on it)

attorneys must follow a set of standards governing the admission of evidence into the court proceedings

These standards are called the Rules of Evidence

One of the most famous Rules of Evidence is the Exclusionary Rule, which states that evidence obtained illegally is not admissible in a court of law. Rule established by Surpeme Court case of Mapp v. Ohio (1961)

EXTRA TIME: Work on essay

FRIDAY’S NOTES are not online. Be sure to read American Government, chapter 8