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The National Judiciary. The Federal Court System. Jurisdiction: the authority of the courts to hear certain cases Original jurisdiction - lower courts have authority to hear cases for the first time. Trial are conducted, evidence is presented, and juries determine the outcome of the case.

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the federal court system
The Federal Court System
  • Jurisdiction: the authority of the courts to hear certain cases
    • Original jurisdiction- lower courts have authority to hear cases for the first time. Trial are conducted, evidence is presented, and juries determine the outcome of the case.
    • Appellate jurisdiction- courts that hear reviews or appeals of decisions from the lower courts. Court of Appeals & the Supreme Court have appellate jurisdiction
    • Concurrent jurisdiction- allows certain types of cases to be tried in either the federal or state courts.
structure of the judicial system
Structure of the Judicial System
  • Constitutional Courts
    • Federal courts created by Congress in Article III of the Constitution & the Supreme Court
        • Includes district courts, Courts of Appeals
  • Legislative Courts
    • Hears cases given to Congress under Article I of the Constitution
      • Examples: Territorial Courts, U.S. Tax Courts, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
      • Have a more narrow range of authority than Constitutional
district courts
District Courts
  • Judiciary Act of 1789
    • Created the district courts to serve as trial courts on the federal level
  • Currently 94 Districts
    • Each state has at least 1
  • Have original jurisdiction, do not hear appeals
  • Decide civil and criminal cases
  • Hear more than 80% of all federal cases
criminal vs civil court
Criminal vs. Civil Court
  • Read pages 17-20 in the Constitution & the Federal Judiciary packet
  • Create a t-chart detailing characteristics of both courts
  • Respond: Is it possible to be tried in both courts for the same crime? Why or why not?
courts of appeals
Courts of Appeals
  • Created in 1891 to help lessen the work load of the Supreme Court
  • Decides appeals from the U.S. District courts
  • 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals
  • States are divided into circuits (districts)
  • Have appellate jurisdiction only
  • A panel of judges decides cases in the courts of appeals
supreme court
Supreme Court
  • Only court actually created in the Constitution
  • Highest court in the federal judicial system
  • Has final authority in dealing with all questions arising from the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties
  • Has both original and appellate jurisdiction
  • Most cases heard are on appeal from the appellate courts
  • Decisions made in the S.C. may have a strong impact on social, economic, & political forces in our society
  • Congress establishes the size of the S.C., and has the power to change the number of justices
    • The current size was set in 1869 at _____ justices
    • All are nominated by the president, and confirmed by the Senate
judicial selection
Judicial Selection
  • The president appoints federal judges, with confirmation by the Senate
  • There are no formal Constitutional qualifications for federal judges
  • Federal judges serve a “during good behavior” (life) term
      • The life term was meant to allow judges to be free from political pressures when deciding cases
  • Federal judges may be removed from office through impeachment & conviction
lower courts
Lower Courts
  • The Dept. of Justice and White House staff handle most appointments to the lower courts, due to the large number
  • Senatorial Courtesy is the practice of allowing individual senators who represent the state where the district is located to approve or disapprove potential nominees
    • Only plays a major role in district courts, not appellate courts
judicial selection to the supreme court
Judicial Selection to the Supreme Court
  • Presidents only make appointments to the SC if a vacancy occurs during their term in office
    • Timeline of Appointments
  • When making appointments, presidents often consider:
    • Party affiliation
    • Judicial philosophy
    • Race, gender, religion, region
    • Judicial experience
    • “litmus test”- a test of ideological purity toward a liberal or conservative stand on certain issues such as abortion
    • Acceptability
      • American Bar Association
      • Interest groups
      • Other Justices
senate judiciary questionnaire
Senate Judiciary Questionnaire


  • I. Biographical Information
    • Education: List each college and law school you have attended, including dates of attendance, degrees received and dates degrees were granted.
    • Employment record: List (by year) all governmental agencies, businesses or professional corporations, companies, firms, or other enterprises, partnerships, institutions, and organizations, nonprofit or otherwise, with which you are or have been connected as an officer, director, partner, proprietor, or employee.
    • Writings and Speeches: (a) List the titles, publishers, and dates of books, articles, reports, letters to the editor, editorial pieces, or other published material you have written or edited. Please supply one copy of all published material to the Committee.
    • Citations: Please provide: (a) Citations for all opinions you have written (including concurrences and dissents).
  • II. Financial Data and Conflict of Interest (Public)
    • List sources and amounts of all income received during the calendar year preceding your nomination and for the current calendar year, including any salaries, fees, dividends, interest, gifts, rents, royalties, patents, honoraria, and other items of $500 or more.
    • Have you ever held a position or played a role in a political campaign? If so, please identify the particulars of the campaign, including the candidate, dates of the campaign, your title and responsibilities.
    • The American Bar Association's commentary to its Code of Judicial Conduct states that it is inappropriate for a judge to hold membership in any organization that . . . discriminates on the basis of race, sex, or religion. Please list all business clubs, social clubs or fraternal organizations to which you belong or have belonged since graduating from law school . . . .
    • Has anyone involved in the process of selecting you as a judicial nominee (including, but not limited to a member of the White House staff, the Justice Department, or the Senate or its staff) discussed with you any specific case, legal issue or question in a manner that could reasonably be interpreted as seeking any…assurances concerning your position on such case, issue, or question? If so, please explain fully.
    • Please discuss your views on the role of the judiciary in our governmental system and the . . . criticism involving "judicial activism."

Chief Justice John Roberts' Nomination Hearing

background of judges
Background of Judges
  • Have extensive legal training
  • Have held positions in government
  • Have served as lawyers for leading law firms
  • LBJ appointed the first African American Justice _____
  • Ronald Raegan appointed the first woman _____
  • Barack Obama appointed the first Hispanic _____
the supreme court at work
The Supreme Court at Work
  • The term of the Supreme Court begins on the first Monday in October and generally lasts until June or July of the following year
accepting cases
Accepting Cases
  • Thousands of cases are appealed to the SC every year
  • Only a few hundred are actually heard
    • Most are denied because the justices either agree with the decision of the lower court, or believe the case does not involve a significant point of law
  • Cases that are accepted must pass the Rule of 4, where at least 4 of the 9 justices agree to hear the case
  • Cases presented to the SC may be appealed through
    • Writ of certiorari- an order by the court directing a lower court to send up the records of a case for review
    • Certificate- a lower court may ask the SC about a rule of law or procedures in specific cases
briefs oral arguments
Briefs & Oral Arguments
  • Once a case reaches the SC, lawyers for each party to the case file a written brief (a detailed statement of the facts of the case supporting a particular position by presenting arguments based on relevant facts and citations from previous cases)
  • Interested parties (interest groups) may also be invited to write amicus curiae briefs (support of or rejecting arguments of the case)
  • Oral arguments allow both sides to present their positions to the justices during a 30 minute period
    • Justices may interrupt the lawyers, asking questions or challenging points of the law
research conferences
Research & Conferences
  • Justices use law clerks to research the info. presented in oral arguments & briefs
  • Throughout the term, justices meet in private conferences to consider cases heard in oral argument, with the chief justice presiding over the conferences
  • Each justice has the opportunity to speak about the cases under discussion
writing opinions
Writing Opinions
  • Once the SC has made a decision in a case, the decision is explained in a written statement, called an opinion
    • Majority opinion- a majority of the justices agree on the decision and its reasons
    • Concurring opinion- a justice who agrees with majority opinion
    • Dissenting opinion- a justice or justices who disagree with the majority opinion
    • Majority opinions become precedents (standards or guidelines) to be followed in deciding similar cases in the future
judicial philosophy
Judicial Philosophy
  • Judicial Activism
    • Judicial intervention, the idea that the court should play an active role in determining national policies.
    • Advocates applying the Constitution to social and political questions, especially where Constitutional rights have been violated
  • Judicial Restraint
    • Holds that the court should avoid taking the initiative on social and political questions, operating strictly within the limits of the Constitution
    • Involves only a limited use of judicial powers and advocates the belief that the court should be more passive, allowing the executive & legislative branches to lead the way in policy making
  • The Oyez Project
  • Supreme Court of the United States
  • Textbook PowerPoint