The US courts system is effectively an infrastructure of several court systems ranging from the state systems, through federal and ultimately the supreme court. There are numerous websites online which will give a more detailed insight, like this one, but if you want a quick and easy overview read on.

US Courts System

State Courts

Every legal case will start at the lowest level, in a state court, and may or not move up through the ranks. The majority of cases are resolved at this level and those which are settled, but are then appealed against, will go to the appellate courts. These courts don’t hold trials, they merely review any decisions made and procedures followed by the state courts. The possible results include an upholding or reversal of the decision, a modification of monetary awards or the order of a retrial. Beyond the appellate courts are the state’s so-called ‘last resort court’ or supreme court. These work in the same way as appellate courts by reviewing decisions rather than holding trials. Although the decisions made here are final as far as the states court system goes, appeals can sometimes be made which go to the US Supreme Court.

Federal Courts

The bulk of the US federal courts are divided into circuits and districts. Each state has at least one federal district, and the larger, most populated states will have several. Texas, for example has northern, southern, eastern and western districts. Federal lawsuits will generally start at district level. Most of these tend to be civil rather than criminal cases and will involve the kind of legal issue which falls under the federal government’s jurisdiction and not the state government. Should a lawsuit be dealing with a certain type of federal law, it will be heard within a special federal court. The cause of the lawsuit is what deems it a special federal court, and these include taxes, bankruptcy, veteran appeals and federal claims.

State Supreme Court

This is the highest court with a state court system and the decisions made within these courtrooms are usually the final say so to speak. There will have been several appeals for a case to reach this level and no trials will be held in the supreme court, they will review decisions made which have been appealed against. To have a verdict overturned in a supreme court is a mighty victory and while it’s not the norm this does happen with a good many cases.

US Supreme Court

Should an appeal be made about a decision made at state supreme level there is only one place left to go. The US Supreme Court is the highest court in the land and literally is the final word. The 9 justices sitting on the Supreme Court have been nominated by the president himself and then been approved by the US Senate. Very few cases actually reach the US Supreme Court. One reason for this is the length of time and how many state courts it will have passed through to get there. Another reason is that justices themselves choose which cases they will hear due to their own criteria.

This is a contributed post.



Claire Kirby

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