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5/4/2015 1 The Federal Court System: An Introductory Guide.

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1 5/4/2015 1 The Federal Court System: An Introductory Guide

2 5/4/2015 2 The Courts’ Role in the Federal System The United States Constitution establishes three separate, co-equal branches of government, each with its own special, enumerated powers: –The Legislative Branch (Congress) creates new laws and amends existing laws; –The Executive Branch (the President) enforces the laws passed by Congress; and –The Judicial Branch (the Federal Courts) interprets the laws passed by Congress and limits excessive exercise of the Executive Branch’s enforcement authority.

3 5/4/2015 3 What are the Federal Courts? The Federal Court System is the dispute resolution arm of the federal government. Federal Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, meaning that they can only decide the types of cases that are enumerated in Article III of the Constitution.

4 5/4/2015 4 Subject Matter Jurisdiction of Federal Courts Federal Courts are limited to those types of cases over which they have subject matter jurisdiction: –Cases arising under the Constitution or Federal law (Federal Question Cases); –Cases in which the Federal Government is a party; –Cases between two or more states, or between citizens of different states (Diversity Cases); –Maritime cases; and –Cases involving foreign countries.

5 5/4/2015 5 Organization of the Federal Courts Although the Constitution explicitly provided only for the U.S. Supreme Court, it granted Congress the power to create subordinate federal courts. As the country grew, and the business of courts increased, Congress created two levels of courts beneath the Supreme Court – the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, and the Federal District Courts.

6 5/4/2015 6 Organization: The District Courts The District Courts are the building blocks of the Federal Court System. District Courts are trial courts – they hear cases in the first instance. To hear a case, a District Court must have personal jurisdiction in addition to subject matter jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction generally means that the parties to the case must either reside within the borders of the District Court, or have ties to the District sufficient to allow the Court to assert jurisdiction.

7 5/4/2015 7 Organization: The District Courts Pennsylvania has three District Courts: –The Eastern District (encompassing Philadelphia and the surrounding area); –The Middle District (encompassing northeastern and central Pennsylvania, including Scranton, Williamsport and Harrisburg); and –The Western District (encompassing the Western third of the state, including Pittsburgh, Johnstown and Erie).

8 5/4/2015 8 Map of Pennsylvania’s three federal districts

9 5/4/2015 9 Organization: The District Courts Practice before a Federal District Court is regulated by various sets of rules that vary depending on the type of case: Civil Cases: –Federal Rules of Civil Procedure –Local Rules of Court Criminal Cases: –Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure –Federal Sentencing Guidelines –Local Rules of Court

10 5/4/2015 10 Organization: The District Courts When a District Court hears a case, a decision is rendered either by a judge (in a bench trial) or by a jury (in a jury trial). The parties to the case then have the right to appeal the District Court decision to the Circuit Court of Appeals within which the District Court is located.

11 5/4/2015 11 Organization: The Circuit Courts of Appeal The Circuit Courts are the intermediate appellate courts in the Federal Court System. There are 12 Circuit Courts in the Federal System, each with specific geographic boundaries. Pennsylvania sits in the Third Circuit, which encompasses Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

12 5/4/2015 12 Organization: The Circuit Courts From

13 5/4/2015 13 Organization: The Circuit Courts Practice before a Circuit Court is regulated by the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. When a Circuit Court receives an appeal from a District Court decision, it will review the decision for errors of law. The Circuit Court does not hold a new trial; instead it reviews the official record of the hearing held at the District Court, reviews legal briefs (written arguments) submitted by both parties, and hears brief oral arguments by both sides.

14 5/4/2015 14 Organization: The Circuit Courts After it reviews the record of the case, and hears argument from both sides, the Circuit Court will render a decision. The decision will either be a panel decision (rendered by a group of three Circuit Court judges) or an en banc decision (rendered by all Circuit Court judges on active status*).

15 5/4/2015 15 Organization: The Circuit Courts When it renders its decision, the Circuit Court will either: –Affirm the decision of the District Court (i.e. let it stand); –Modify the decision of the District Court; or –Reverse the decision of the District Court and/or Remand the case back to the District Court for reconsideration in light of the Circuit Court’s opinion. Either party can thereafter appeal the Circuit Court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

16 5/4/2015 16 Organization of the Federal Courts The U.S. Supreme Court, based in Washington D.C., is the highest court in the Federal System. Its decisions are not subject to appeal. In addition to hearing appeals from the Circuit Courts, the Supreme Court can also accept certain appeals from State Supreme Courts that implicate matters of Federal jurisdiction.

17 5/4/2015 17 Organization: The Supreme Court The Supreme Court currently consists of nine justices: –John G. Roberts, Jr. (Chief Justice) –Samuel A. Alito –Stephen G. Breyer –Ruth Bader Ginsberg –Elena Kagan –Anthony M. Kennedy –Antonin Scalia –Sonia Sotomayor –Clarence Thomas

18 5/4/2015 18 Organization: Specialty Courts In addition to the courts discussed previously, the Federal Court System includes several specialty courts that deal with particular areas of the law. For instance, each Federal District Court includes a separate Bankruptcy Court with exclusive jurisdiction to hear bankruptcy cases.

19 5/4/2015 19 Organization: Specialty Courts Other specialty courts include: The Court of International Trade, which has nationwide jurisdiction to hear cases involving international trade and customs issues. The Court of Federal Claims, which has nationwide jurisdiction over most claims for money damages against the United States. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which is a specialized appellate court for cases arising from both the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit also hears patent cases.

20 5/4/2015 20 Questions?

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