federal courts

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Federal Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction which have the authority to hear cases that fall both within the scope defined in Article III Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution and Congressional statutes (See 28 U.S.C. §1251§1253§1331§1332). Collectively, these give Federal Courts jurisdiction over cases and controversies:

  1. Involving a federal question
  2. When sitting in diversity, or 
  3. Between two states. 

Article III of the U.S. Constitution mandates the existence of a Supreme Court in the Federal Court system. Article I Section 8 of the U.S Constitution grants Congress the power, but does not mandate them, to create various lesser courts. 

Due to the exercise of these powers, the federal court system is composed of three separate levels. District courts function as trial courts and act as the initial finders of fact. Appeals from District courts go to one of the 12 circuit courts, each of which serves a separate geographic area. A party wishing to appeal a circuit court decision can appeal for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court. If this writ is granted, the Supreme Court will hear the case. 

Additionally, the federal court system also has trial courts of special and exclusive jurisdiction that decide specific types of controversies such as copyright or bankruptcy issues. Like district courts, appeals from special courts are generally taken to the court of appeals for the judicial circuit in which the special court sits. For certain special court appeals like those which involve patents, however, the appeal is instead taken to the 13th circuit court, the Federal Circuit court. 

[Last updated in January of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]