The U.s. Federal Court System

Most people are aware that the Supreme Court is the law of the land, and has power to have the final say in a court case. But the U.S. Federal Courts system is actually divided into three groups. So in addition to the Supreme Court, there are 94 district and 13 circuit courts across the country.

Whereas state judges are elected by citizens, the federal court judges are appointed by the president. Federal judges do more than just deal with bail hearings and petty crimes. The nine judges on the Supreme Court are called justices. They, too, are appointed by the president and if confirmed by the Senate with 60 votes, they can serve on the Court for the remainder of their lives. The hierarchy of the nine justices is structured so there is one chief justice and eight associates. While the U.S. Constitution didnt stipulate that a prerequisite of becoming a justice on the Court required a law degree, most all have been attorneys, law professors or a judge on a circuit court.

The Supreme Court will only hear a case that requires a clear interpretation of the Constitution. If a state hears a case concerning the First Amendment, for example, about a possible infringement on freedom of speech, and a party makes an appeal, the case will probably go to that states Supreme Court. After that ruling, the case could be appealed by either party to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, its not logistically possible for the high court to hear every case nor are they required to.

The concerned parties next step is to file a document – a writ of certiorari in which they ask the court to hear their case. Only if the writ is granted will the Court hear briefs and ask for oral arguments. Rarely are writs approved. For those declined, the lower courts decision stands. The court hears only 1% of appeals.

Its only an elite, tight group of lawyers who even get the privilege of arguing a case before the nine justices. Any lawyer is allowed to do it, but its just that these elite seem to have the right charisma. This is why clients turn to them; they believe they are most qualified. In the last decade, a mere eight attorneys argued 20% of all cases brought before the high court. Ten years before that, the same percentage was argued by 30 lawyers. So the elite circle continues to dwindle.

While state courts are open year-round, the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. takes a three-month recess. Their term runs from the first Monday of October through late June.

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