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Chapter 8: The Federal Courts and the Judicial Branch. Section 1: The Federal Court System Section 2: Lower Federal Courts Section 3: The Supreme Court. Section 1 at a Glance. The Federal Court System The United States has a dual court system.

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Chapter 8: The Federal Courts and the Judicial Branch

Section 1:The Federal Court System

Section 2:Lower Federal Courts

Section 3:The Supreme Court


Section 1 at a Glance

  • The Federal Court System
  • The United States has a dual court system.
  • The Judiciary Act of 1789 organized the federal courts into three tiers. Today these tiers consist of the district courts, the courts of appeals, and the Supreme Court.
  • Through its powers of judicial review, the judicial branch plays a critical role in the system of checks and balances.

The Federal Court System

Main Idea

The Framers created an independent judicial branch as part of the separation of powers of the national government. At the federal level, the judicial branch consists of three tiers of courts, each performing a different function.

  • Reading Focus
  • How is jurisdiction determined in the American court system?
  • How is the federal court system structured?
  • How are federal judges appointed?
  • What is the judicial branch’s role in the system of checks and balances?

The American Court System

  • A Dual Court System
  • Constitution set up federal court system to clarify rulings between state courts and set national standard.
  • Authority of state and federal court systems from different sources: powers of state courts from state constitutions and state laws; authority of federal courts from Constitution and federal law
  • Jurisdiction
  • State courts have jurisdiction over state law; federal courts have jurisdiction over federal law.
  • Court that first hears a case has original jurisdiction; if appealed to another court, that court has appellate jurisdiction.
  • Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over matters involving U.S. Constitution
  • Cases involving residents of different states and sums above $75,000 fall under concurrent jurisdiction, both state and federal courts; plaintiff may file case in either state or federal court

Making Inferences

Why is jurisdiction complicated by the nation’s dual court system?

Answer(s):Some cases fall under both state and federal jurisdiction.


Judiciary Act of 1789

District Courts

  • Outlined three-tiered system of federal courts; has remained virtually the same since original proposal
  • Supreme Court is at top; below are circuit courts, district courts
  • Each state must have one district court
  • District courts have original jurisdiction over most federal cases

Structure of the Federal Court System

The Constitution left much of the structure of the U.S. federal court system to the discretion of Congress.


Structure of the Federal Court System (cont’d.)

  • Courts of Appeals
  • Originally circuit courts, courts of appeals hear appeals from district courts and some federal agencies
  • 12 circuits with a court of appeals in each circuit
  • The Supreme Court
  • Supreme Court is mainly an appellate court; has original jurisdiction over some cases as outlined in the Constitution
  • Court chooses which cases it hears; usually concern issues of constitutionality
  • Other Courts
  • Some other courts created by Congress, known as Article I courts, have limited jurisdiction


What are the three tiers of the federal court system?

Answer(s):the district courts, the courts of appeals, and the Supreme Court


Legal Expertise

Judicial Philosophy

  • Most judges have been lawyers
  • Party Affiliation
  • Presidents usually nominate judges from their political party
  • Presidents usually nominate judges with similar judicial philosophy
  • Judicial restraint: judges interpret Constitution based on Framers’ original intention
  • Judicial activism: meaning of Constitution should be adapted to meet modern needs
  • Most judges respect precedent

Appointing Federal Judges

Presidents usually consider four items when nominating a federal judge: legal expertise, party affiliation, judicial philosophy, and the opinions of the Senate.


Appointing Federal Judges (cont’d.)

  • Opinions of the Senate
  • President consults senators before making judicial nominations
  • Tradition of senatorial courtesy: senator from same state as judicial nominee and same political party as president can block nomination to federal district court for almost any reason
  • Individual senators cannot block nominations to courts of appeals or Supreme Court

Drawing Conclusions

How does the appointment process ensure that voters have some input on the selection of judges and justices?

Answer(s):Nominations are made by the president and nominees must be approved by the Senate; both president and senators are subject to popular election.


Checks and Balances

  • Judicial Review
  • Primary check the judicial branch performs on executive and legislative branches
  • Checks on the Judiciary
  • Appointment process is check on judiciary by executive and legislative branches
  • Congress has power to impeach and remove judges from office
  • Amendment process is legislative check on the judiciary


What is the judiciary’s primary check on the other two branches?

Answer(s):judicial review


Debating the Issue: Judicial Activism or Judicial Restraint?

Should judges be guided by a philosophy of judicial activism or judicial restraint?

The question of how much power the judiciary should have in interpreting the Constitution is not one that is likely to have a final answer anytime soon. Most judges declare their belief in judicial restraint. But the power of judicial review, the fundamental power of the judiciary, demands that judges be willing to overturn the acts of the legislative and executive branches—in other words, that they be judicial activists. The tension between judicial restraint and judicial activism is built in to the fabric of judicial decision-making.