Overview of the Federal Court System

AuthorPamela Everett Nollkamper
Chapter 1
Overview of the
Federal Court System
§100 Summary of the Federal Court System
§110 Electronic Access to Court Records
§120 Schedule of Fees
§100 Summary of the Federal Court System
§101 United States District Courts
§102 United States Courts of Appeals
§103 United States Supreme Court
§104 Federal Judges
§110 Electronic Access to Court Records
§111 PACER — Public Access to Court Electronic Records
§112 Case Management/Electronic Case Filing
§113 Electronic Access to Transcripts of Federal Court Proceedings
§114 Video and Telephonic Conferencing
§115 Digital Recordings of Proceedings
§120 Schedule of Fees
The federal judiciary was created by Article III of the U.S. Constitution. Article III
of the Constitution gives the Supreme Court its judicial power, and gives Congress the
power to establish the nature and jurisdiction of inferior federal courts. Article I, Sec-
tion 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to establish inferior courts.
Under this section, Congress established special courts such as the U.S. Tax Court and
the Bankruptcy Courts.
The federal court system consists of four types of courts: the United States District
Courts, which are the trial courts; the United States Courts of Appeals, which are the
appellate courts; the United States Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the
country; and special courts, whose jurisdiction is limited to a specific area of law. Fed-
eral courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. All matters that do not fall under federal
court jurisdiction must be filed in state court.
The United States District Courts are the trial courts of the federal judiciary. The
federal district courts have both civil and criminal jurisdiction, and are courts of law,
equity and admiralty. Federal courts of lim ited jurisdiction on the trial-court level
include bankruptcy courts and some special courts. There is at least one district court
for each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. In the larger states, such
as Texas, California and New York, there are several district courts within the state.
There are district courts in three United States territories: the U.S. Virgin Islands,
Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Although these territorial courts are not
technically “District Courts of the United States,” they exercise the same jurisdiction as
U.S. district courts. However, judges on these territorial courts do not enjoy the same
Constitutional protections as District Judges, and serve for ten years rather than for life.
There are four types of jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court:
1. Federal question jurisdiction;
2. Diversity jurisdiction;
3. Exclusive jurisdiction; and
4. Pendent jurisdiction.
Federal question jurisdiction involves disputes arising under the Constitution,
laws and treaties of the United States. These cases must involve an issue which is
federal in nature, or include a violation of one’s federal rights under the Constitution,
or contain a claim based upon federal law (28 U.S.C. §1331).
Diversity jurisdiction involves disputes of more than $75,000 between the following:
1. Citizens of different states or between a state government and a citizen of
another state.
2. A citizen of a state and a citizen of a foreign state, except in an action between
citizens of a state and citizens of a foreign state who are admitted for permanent
residence in the U.S. and are domiciled in the same state.
3. Citizens of different states in which citizens of a foreign state are additional
parties; and
4. Two or more states, or a foreign state and citizens of a different state.
A corporation is a citizen of the state in which it is incorpo rated or has its princi-
pal place of business. The term “state” includes the District of Columbia (28 U.S.C.
§§1330, 1332).
Exclusive federal jurisdiction means that only the federal court has the power to hear
the case. If the case involves an issue under federal law, the district court must resolve the
issue. State courts have exclusive jurisdiction over issues involving state law issues. When
both state and federal courts have the power to hear a case, concur rent jurisdiction exists,
then the Plaintiff may initiate the lawsuit in either federal or state court.
The district courts have exclusive jurisdiction over the following cases:
1. All admiralty or maritime cases. These cases include matters that occur on
lakes, rivers and canals, so long as they are part of a continuous interstate water
route. Lakes or rivers that are within one state with no outlet to another state are

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