The U.S. Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of the United States was created by Sec. 1 Article III of the Constitution. Its jurisdiction is set out by statute in Title 28 of the U.S. Code. The organization of the Court is also spelled out by legislation. The Court itself develops the rules governing the presentation of cases. One of the most important powers of the Supreme Court is judicial review. While the Supreme Court is a separate branch of government, outside factors do exert some influence on the Court.
Federal Courts of Appeal
When cases are appealed from district courts, they go to a federal court of appeals. Courts of appeals do not use juries or witnesses. No new evidence is submitted in an appealed case; appellate courts base their decisions on a review of lower-court records. In 1990, the 158 judges handled about 41,000 cases. There are 12 general appeals courts. All but one of them (which serves only the District of Columbia) serve an area consisting of three to nine states (called a circuit.) There is also the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which specializes in appeals of decisions in cases involving patents, contract claims against the federal government, federal employment cases and international trade.
Federal District Courts
All federal courts, except for the U.S. Supreme Court were created by Congress. There are ninety four federal district courts across the country, with at least one in every state (larger states have up to four). There are about 550 federal district-court judges who are appointed by the president with the advice of the Senate. District courts are the only courts in the federal system in which juries hear testimony in some cases, and most cases at this level are presented before a single judge. They heard about 267,000 cases in 1990. Federal district courts are bound by legal precedents established by the Supreme Court. Most federal cases end with the district court's decision.
Each state has a court system that exist independently from the federal courts. State court systems have trial courts at the bottom level and appellate courts at the top. Over 95% of the nation's legal cases are decided in state courts (or local courts, which are agents of the states).
Court of Claims
The Court of Claims hears cases in which the U.S. Government is sued.
Court of Military Appeals
The Court of Military Appeals hears appeals of military court-martial (when a person who is in the military commits a crime they can be tried and punished by the military courts.)
Court of International Trade
The Court of International Trade hears cases involving appeals of rulings of U.S. Customs offices.