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Major Courts of the United States


Administration of justice is the pride of successful societies throughout the history of mankind. The rise of the United States of America as a democracy whose dedication to the defense of human rights has been described as the best has benefitted heavily from the American justice system. The creation of well structured courts at both the state and federal level has gone a long way in ensuring that justice is not delayed or denied. The functionality of a justice system is pegged on the structure of its courts (Epstein & Segal2007, pp.11-12).If the justice system has courts whose jurisdiction is clear, there are likely to be less or no problems in resolving the issues affecting the people. The United States justice system boasts of a huge array of well structured courts with well defined judicial powers.

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The court structure in the United States begins from state level and goes up to the top most court at the federal level. At state level, there are some minor differences between one state and another. But the basic court structure is essentially the same. The courts at state level include the district courts the court of appeals and the state supreme court. The district courts at state level are sometimes known as superior courts in some states such as Arizona while the court of appeals is sometimes referred to as the civil court of appeals. At the federal level, there are three levels of courts as well as a huge array of specialized courts. The three levels of federal courts are district courts, the United States Courts Of Appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States. The specialized courts include the United States tax court, the United States court of international trade, the United States Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court, the United States court of private land claims, and the United States court for federal claims.

The Main Features of the Courts

State Level Courts: State Level District Courts

These are the most utilized courts at state level. They have wide original jurisdiction at state level and trials are conducted through the presentation of evidence after the hearing has been done (Epstein & Segal2007,pp.21-22).Thus the hearing is done first after which the parties are given the chance to prepare evidence and present it in court during trial. Most people behind bars in the United States were given their sentences in district courts. As noted elsewhere in this paper, these courts are known as superior courts in some states and are found in all the states in the United States. In the event that cases not settled in these courts, they are forward to the supreme court of the state. In the same manner, when the parties to a case are not contented with the verdict given at the district courts, they have a chance to appeal in the state court of appeals. The judges who serve in state level courts are selected by a number of ways such as election and appointment for a certain period or for life.

The State Court Of Appeals

This is the court that lies in between the district courts and the supreme courts at the state level. The court of appeals handles cases that are presented by parties to a case who got an unsatisfying verdict at the district court level. In the event that there is no satisfaction at this level, the case can be taken to the state supreme court for review and determination.

State Level Supreme Court

This is the most powerful court at state level. It handles cases that are referred from the junior courts. Parties to cases that are heard and determined by the Supreme Court can decide to seek legal redress from the Supreme Court of the United States in the event that they are not satisfied with the verdict.

Federal Level Courts

The federal courts of the United States do not override the state courts. Instead they run side by side thus forming a parallel system of justice. The fact that most cases both criminal and civil are heard and determined by state courts shows the significance of the state courts (Epstein & Segal2007, pp.43-44).Therefore assuming that state courts are inferior compared to federal courts is fallacious. The most important point that should be made clear here is that state and federal law is meant to work in harmony for the common good. But in the event that the state law has a different position over an issue that is addressed by federal law, federal law gains precedence. This means that the position of the federal law is what is enforced and not state law. Thus state law is irrelevant to the extent that it is inconsistent with federal law. Another equally important issue is that federal courts are responsible for international law issues, interstate disputes and admiralty cases.

The District Courts

These are the lowest but very important courts that deal with trails of most cases; both civil and criminal. Cases that are heard and determined at this level can be heard again upon appeal at the federal courts of appeals. It is also possible for a case to be referred to the Supreme Court of the United States from a district court if the case is about a crucial constitutional law issue. The judges of the district courts are appointed by the president of the United States and confirmed by the senate.

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The Federal Courts Of Appeals

These are the courts that lie in between the district courts and the Supreme Court of the United States. Appeals from the district courts can be heard at these courts. If the appeals are not final as far as the parties to the case are concerned, the case can be referred to the highest court of the land; the Supreme Court of the united states. The men and women who serve as judges in United States courts of appeals are appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate. Usually, three judges hear cases and the majority vote becomes the decision (Cross 2007, pp.56-57).

The Supreme Court of the United States

This is the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court does not have original jurisdiction except over a small range of issue (Power 2009, pp.11-12).This court mainly deals with issues that are of constitutional nature. The justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are nine in number and they are nominated by the president of the United States. The nomination is never final as these nominated men and women have to go through a rigorous screening process by the senate (Segal2005,pp.23-25).The screening is followed by confirmation if the nominee convinces the senate that he or she is credible enough to serve in the country’s highest court. Usually, these justices are appointed for life. They have security of tenure and not even the president who nominated them can remove them from office (Epstein & Segal2007, pp.34-35).Due to this security of tenure, the Supreme Court has exhibited the courage to make decisions that go against the presidents of the united states (Shesol 2010, pp.19-21).The Chief Justice acts as the president of the court and convenes the hearings of cases during court sessions.

The other special courts perform special functions. For example the tax court handles tax issues; the court for international trade deals with matters of international commerce while the foreign intelligence court handles espionage issues.

In conclusion, the United States court system is structured in such a way that the states have their courts and the federal government had its courts too. In areas of legal conflict, federal law overrides ate law. The highest court in the United States is the Supreme Court that is served by nine justices who are nominated by the president and confirmed by the senate.


Cross, F., 2007.Decision Making in the U.S. Courts of Appeals. (1st ed.).New York: Stanford University Press.

Epstein, L & Segal, F, 2007.Advice and Consent: The Politics of Judicial Appointments. New York: Oxford University Press.

Power, L., 2009.The Supreme Court and the American Elite, 1789-2008. (1st ed.).New York: Harvard University Press.

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Segal, J., 2005.The Supreme Court in the American Legal System. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Shesol, J., 2010.Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court. (1st ed.).New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

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