The federal judiciary of the United States is one of the three branches of the federal government of the United States organized under the United States Constitution and laws of the federal government. Article III of the Constitution requires the establishment of a Supreme Court and permits the Congress to create other federal courts, and place limitations on their jurisdiction. Article III federal judges are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate to serve until they resign, are impeached and convicted, retire, or die.
The federal courts are composed of three levels of courts. They are listed below.
The United States district courts (one in each of the 94 federal judicial districts, as well three territorial courts) are general federal trial courts, although in certain cases Congress has diverted original jurisdiction to specialized courts, such as the Court of International Trade, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Alien Terrorist Removal Court, or to Article I or Article IV tribunals. The district courts usually have jurisdiction to hear appeals from such tribunals (unless, for example, appeals are to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.)
The United States courts of appeals are the intermediate federal appellate courts. They operate under a system of mandatory review which means they must hear all appeals of right from the lower courts. In some cases, Congress has diverted appellate jurisdiction to specialized courts, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.
The Supreme Court of the United States is the court of last resort. It generally hears appeals from the courts of appeals and sometimes state courts, operating under discretionary review, which means that the Supreme Court can choose which cases to hear, by granting writs of certiorari. There is therefore generally no basic right of appeal that extends automatically all the way to the Supreme Court. In a few situations (like lawsuits between state governments or some cases between the federal government and a state) it sits as a court of original jurisdiction.
Besides these federal courts, described as Article III courts, there are other adjudicative bodies described as Article I or Article IV courts in reference to the article of the Constitution from which the court's authority stems.
There are a number of Article I courts with appellate jurisdiction over specific subject matter including the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, as well as Article I courts with appellate jurisdiction over specific geographic areas such as the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. The Article I courts with original jurisdiction over specific subject matter include the bankruptcy courts (for each district court), the immigration courts, the Court of Federal Claims, and the Tax Court.
Article IV courts include the High Court of American Samoa and territorial courts such as the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, District Court of Guam, and District Court of the Virgin Islands.
In April 2013, about 10 percent of federal seats were vacant, with 85 of 856 positions unfilled and 4 vacancies on the prestigious Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The high vacancy rate has been attributed to politics, particularly Senate filibustering of potential appointees by Senators. In many cases there is no nominee for the position; however, the Senate has a tradition of senatorial courtesy in which nominees are only considered if the home senators approve. In May 2013 Congressional Research Service published a paper analyzing the vacancies and appointment process.
Under Article I of the federal Constitution, Congress also has the power to establish other tribunals, which are usually quite specialized, within the executive branch to assist the President in the execution of his or her powers. Judges who staff them normally serve terms of fixed duration, as do magistrate judges who assist Article III judges. Judges in Article I tribunals attached to executive branch agencies are referred to as administrative law judges (ALJs) and are generally considered to be part of the executive branch even though they exercise quasi-judicial powers. With limited exceptions, they cannot render final judgments in cases involving life, liberty, and private property rights, but may make preliminary rulings subject to review by an Article III judge.
The Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution, although it is itself is created by, and required to follow - not interpret - the US Constitution, as placing some additional restrictions on the federal courts. For example, the doctrines of mootness, ripeness, and standing prohibit district courts from issuing advisory opinions. Other doctrines, such as the abstention doctrine and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine limit the power of lower federal courts to disturb rulings made by state courts. The Erie doctrine requires federal courts to apply substantive state law to claims arising from state law (which may be heard in federal courts under supplemental or diversity jurisdiction). In difficult cases, the federal courts must either guess as to how a court of that state would decide the issue or, if that state accepts certified questions from federal courts when state law is unclear or uncertain, ask an appellate court of that state to decide the issue.
Notably, the only federal court that can issue proclamations of federal law that bind state courts is the Supreme Court itself. Decisions of the lower federal courts, whether on issues of federal law or state law (i.e., the question was not certified to a state court), are persuasive but not binding authority in the states in which those federal courts sit.
Some commentators assert that another limitation upon federal courts is executive nonacquiescence in judicial decisions, where the executive simply refuses to accept them as binding precedent. In the context of administration of U.S. internal revenue laws by the Internal Revenue Service, nonacquiescences (published in a series of documents called Actions on Decisions) "generally do not affect the application of stare decisis or the rule of precedent". The IRS "will recognize these principles and generally concede issues accordingly during administrative proceedings." In rare cases, however, the IRS may continue to litigate a legal issue in a given circuit even where the IRS has already lost a case on that issue in that circuit.
The Articles of Confederation provided a clear basis for the initial establishment of United States of America judicial authority by Congress prior to the Constitution. This authority, enumerated by Article IX, allowed for the establishment of United States jurisdiction in the trial of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, final appeals from state court decisions in all cases of captures of enemy ships, last resort for resolution of disputes between two or more states (including disputes over borders and jurisdiction), and final determination of controversies between private parties arising from conflicting land grants issued by two or more states prior to settlement of which state actually has jurisdiction over the territory. The Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture was the first United States Court established by the United States. Additional United States courts were established to adjudicate border disputes between the states of Connecticut and Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts, Georgia and South Carolina. Lastly, a United States court was established for the Northwest Territory.
When the Constitution came into force in 1789, Congress gained the authority to establish the federal judicial system as a whole. Only the Supreme Court was established by the Constitution itself. The Judiciary Act of 1789 created the first inferior (i.e., lower) federal courts established pursuant to the Constitution and provided for the first Article III judges.
Virtually all U.S. law schools offer an elective course that focuses specifically on the powers and limitations of U.S. federal courts, with coverage of topics such as justiciability, abstention doctrines, the abrogation doctrine, and habeas corpus.
An administrative law judge (ALJ) in the United States is a judge and trier of fact who both presides over trials and adjudicates the claims or disputes (in other words, ALJ-controlled proceedings are bench trials) involving administrative law.
ALJs can administer oaths, take testimony, rule on questions of evidence, and make factual and legal determinations. And depending upon the agency's jurisdiction, proceedings may have complex multi-party adjudication, as is the case with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or simplified and less formal procedures, as is the case with the Social Security Administration.Donald Trump Supreme Court candidates
With the advice and consent of the United States Senate, the President of the United States appoints the members of the Supreme Court of the United States, which is the highest court of the federal judiciary of the United States. Following his victory in the 2016 presidential election, Republican Donald Trump took office as president on January 20, 2017, and faced an immediate vacancy on the Supreme Court due to the February 2016 death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. During the 2016 campaign, Trump had released two lists of potential nominees to the Supreme Court. After taking office, he nominated Neil Gorsuch to succeed Scalia, and Gorsuch was confirmed in April 2017. In November 2017, five more names were added to the previous lists of potential nominees. In June 2018, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, creating a second vacancy on the Supreme Court. In early July 2018, Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh as his replacement, Kavanaugh was confirmed on October 6, 2018.
Both the Gorsuch and Kavanaugh confirmations were enabled by a rule change made by the Senate Republican majority in April 2017, which applied the so-called nuclear option to Supreme Court nominees and allowed nominations to be advanced by a simple majority vote rather than the historical norm of a three-fifths supermajority vote.Gregory v. City of Chicago
Gregory v. Chicago, 394 U.S. 111 (1969), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court overturned the disorderly conduct charges against Dick Gregory and others for peaceful demonstrations in Chicago.Jay Court
The Jay Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States from 1789 to 1795, when John Jay served as the first Chief Justice of the United States. Jay served as Chief Justice until his resignation, at which point John Rutledge took office as a recess appointment. The Supreme Court was established in Article III of the United States Constitution, but the workings of the federal court system were largely laid out by the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established a six-member Supreme Court, composed of one Chief Justice and five Associate Justices. As the first President, George Washington was responsible for appointing the entire Supreme Court. The act also created thirteen judicial districts, along with district courts and circuit courts for each district.
The Court held its inaugural session on February 2, 1790, at the Royal Exchange in New York City. However, with no cases on the docket and little pressing business, the term lasted for only eight days. It was not until August 1791 that the Court issued its first decision. That same year, the Court moved with the rest of the federal government to Philadelphia.
The Court's business through its first three years primarily involved the establishment of rules and procedure; reading of commissions and admission of attorneys to the bar; and the Justices' duties in riding circuit, to preside over cases in the circuit courts of the various federal judicial districts. It heard only four cases during Jay's chief justiceship.
During his tenure, Jay established an early precedent for the Court's independence in 1790, when Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton wrote to him requesting an advisory opinion on proposed legislation supported by the president. Jay replied that the Court's business was restricted to ruling on the constitutionality of cases being tried before it and refused to allow it to take a position either for or against the legislation. This established a precedent that the Court only hears cases and controversies.Judiciary Act of 1789
The Judiciary Act of 1789 (ch. 20, 1 Stat. 73) was a United States federal statute adopted on September 24, 1789, in the first session of the First United States Congress. It established the federal judiciary of the United States. Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution prescribed that the "judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and such inferior Courts" as Congress saw fit to establish. It made no provision for the composition or procedures of any of the courts, leaving this to Congress to decide.The existence of a separate federal judiciary had been controversial during the debates over the ratification of the Constitution. Anti-Federalists had denounced the judicial power as a potential instrument of national tyranny. Indeed, of the ten amendments that eventually became the Bill of Rights, five (the fourth through the eighth) dealt primarily with judicial proceedings. Even after ratification, some opponents of a strong judiciary urged that the federal court system be limited to a Supreme Court and perhaps local admiralty judges. The Congress, however, decided to establish a system of federal trial courts with broader jurisdiction, thereby creating an arm for enforcement of national laws within each state.Justice Sunday
Justice Sunday was a series of religious conferences organized by the Family Research Council, founded by James Dobson and headed by Tony Perkins, and Dobson's Focus on the Family organizations. According to FRC, the purpose of the events was to "request an end to filibusters of judicial nominees that were based, at least in part, on the nominees' religious views or imputed inability to decide cases on the basis of the law regardless of their beliefs."
Three such conferences were held. Perkins and Dobson have been present as speakers at all events, and some conservative politicians, including Zell Miller, Tom DeLay and Bill Frist have also made appearances.Mueller v. Allen
Mueller v. Allen, 463 U.S. 388 (1983), was a United States Supreme Court case examining the constitutionality of a state tax deduction granted to taxpaying parents for school-related expenses, including expenses incurred from private secular and religious schools. The plaintiffs claimed that a Minnesota statute, allowing tax deductions for both public and private school expenses, had the effect of subsidizing religious instruction since parents who paid tuition to religious schools received a larger deduction than parents of public school students, who incurred no tuition expenses.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court upheld the statute. The majority affirmed that the benefit was religiously neutral because the deduction applied equally to sectarian and nonsectarian tuition and that the choice of religious or nonreligious instruction was made by individual parents, not the state. Also, aid was given to parents, not schools.
The dissenting opinion argued that the tax deduction violated the US Constitution because it was an indirect government subsidy of religion, providing a financial incentive to parents to send their children to religious schools.Office of Special Investigations (United States Department of Justice)
The Office of Special Investigations is a unit within the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice. Its purpose is to detect and investigate individuals who took part in state sponsored acts committed in violation of public international law, such as crimes against humanity.
In 2010, the Office was merged with the Domestic Security Section to form a new unit of the Criminal Division: the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section.
A redacted report about the office's work was released to the National Security Archives after a FOIA request. A complete report was leaked to the New York Times, and according to David Sobel, the redactions were "without legal justification."Oliver Ellsworth
Oliver Ellsworth (April 29, 1745 – November 26, 1807) was an American lawyer, judge, politician, and diplomat. He was a framer of the United States Constitution, a United States Senator from Connecticut, and the third Chief Justice of the United States. Additionally, Ellsworth received 11 electoral votes in the 1796 presidential election.
Born in Windsor, Connecticut, Ellsworth attended the College of New Jersey where he helped found the American Whig–Cliosophic Society. In 1777, he became the state attorney for Hartford County, Connecticut and was selected as a delegate to the Continental Congress, serving during the American Revolutionary War. He served as a state judge during the 1780s and was selected as a delegate to the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, which produced the United States Constitution. While at the convention, Ellsworth played a role in fashioning the Connecticut Compromise between the more populous states and the less populous states. He also served on the Committee of Detail, which prepared the first draft of the Constitution, but he left the convention before signing the document.
His influence helped ensure that Connecticut ratified the Constitution, and he was elected as one of Connecticut's inaugural pair of Senators, serving from 1789 to 1796. He was the chief author of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which shaped the federal judiciary of the United States and established the Supreme Court's power to overturn state supreme court decisions that were contrary to the United States Constitution. Ellsworth served as a key Senate ally to Alexander Hamilton and aligned with the Federalist Party. He led the Senate passage of Hamiltonian proposals such as the Funding Act of 1790 and the Bank Bill of 1791. He also advocated in favor of the United States Bill of Rights and the Jay Treaty.
In 1796, after the Senate rejected the nomination of John Rutledge to serve as Chief Justice, President George Washington nominated Ellsworth to the position. Ellsworth was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, and served until 1800, when he resigned due to poor health. Few cases came before the Ellsworth Court, and he is chiefly remembered for his discouragement of the previous practice of seriatim opinion writing. He simultaneously served as an envoy to France from 1799 to 1800, signing the Convention of 1800 to settle the hostilities of the Quasi-War. He was succeeded as chief justice by John Marshall. He subsequently served on the Connecticut Governor's Council until his death in 1807.Petition for review
In some jurisdictions, a petition for review is a formal request for an appellate tribunal to review and make changes to the judgment of a lower court or administrative body. If a jurisdiction utilizes petitions for review, then parties seeking appellate review of their case may submit a formal petition for review to an appropriate court. In the federal judiciary of the United States, the term "petition for review" is also used to describe petitions that seek review of federal agency orders or actions.Procedures of the Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. The procedures of the Supreme Court of the United States are governed by the U.S. Constitution, various federal statutes, and the Court's own internal rules. Since 1869, the Court has consisted of one chief justice and eight associate justices. Justices are nominated by the president, and with the advice and consent (confirmation) of the U.S. Senate, appointed to the Court by the president. Once appointed, justices have lifetime tenure unless they resign, retire, or are removed from office.
Established pursuant to Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution in 1789, it has original jurisdiction over a small range of cases, such as suits between two or more states, and those involving ambassadors. It also has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal court and state court cases that involve a point of constitutional or statutory law. Most of the cases the Supreme Court hears are appeals from lower courts. Moreover, the Court has the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the Constitution or an executive act for being unlawful. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The Court may decide cases having political overtones, but does not have power to decide nonjusticiable political questions.Snyder v. Phelps
Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. 443 (2011), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case where the Supreme Court ruled that speech on a matter of public concern, on a public street, cannot be the basis of liability for a tort of emotional distress, even in the circumstances that the speech is viewed or interpreted as "offensive" or "outrageous".
The case brought up the issue of whether or not the First Amendment protected public protestors at a funeral against claims of emotional distress, better known as tort liability. It involved a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, claimed by Albert Snyder, a gay man whose son Matthew Snyder, a U.S. Marine, was killed during the Iraq War. The claim was made in response to the actions of the Phelps family as well as the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) who were also present at the picketing of the funeral. The Court ruled in favor of Phelps in an 8-1 decision, determining that their speech related to a public issue was completely protected, and could not be prevented as it was on public property.Special master
In the law of the United States, a special master is generally a subordinate official appointed by a judge to make sure that judicial orders are actually followed, or in the alternative, to hear evidence on behalf of the judge and make recommendations to the judge as to the disposition of a matter. The special master should not be confused with the traditional common law concept of a master, a judge of the High Court entrusted to deal with summary and administrative matters falling short of a full trial.
In the federal judiciary of the United States, a special master is an adjunct to a federal court. Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a federal court to appoint a master, with the consent of the parties, to conduct proceedings and report to the Court.Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. Established pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, it has original jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases, including suits between two or more states and those involving ambassadors. It also has ultimate (and largely discretionary) appellate jurisdiction over all federal court and state court cases that involve a point of federal constitutional or statutory law. The Court has the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the Constitution or an executive act for being unlawful. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide nonjusticiable political questions.
As set by the Judiciary Act of 1869, the Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight associate justices. Each justice has lifetime tenure, meaning they remain on the Court until they resign, retire, die, or are removed from office. When a vacancy occurs, the president, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoints a new justice.
Each justice has a single vote in deciding the cases argued before it; the chief justice's vote carries no more weight than any other. When the chief justice is in the majority, he decides who writes the opinion of the court; otherwise, the senior justice in the majority assigns the task of writing the opinion.
In modern discourse, justices are often categorized as having conservative, moderate, or liberal philosophies of law and of judicial interpretation. While a far greater number of cases in recent history have been decided unanimously, decisions in cases of the highest profile have often come down to just one single vote, exemplifying the justices' alignment according to these categories.The Court meets in the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. Its law enforcement arm is the Supreme Court of the United States Police.Suryadi
Suryadi (sometimes spelled Soerjadi) was a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Indonesia, as well as the first chairman of the Indonesian Judges Association.Towne v. Eisner
Towne v. Eisner, 245 U.S. 418 (1918), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that "a stock dividend based on accumulated profits was not 'income' within the true intent of the statute." Congress passed a new law in reaction to Towne v. Eisner and so the case was soon overturned by the Supreme Court in Eisner v. Macomber.U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System
The U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System, also called the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services, part of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, is the office of the federal judiciary of the United States. It serves the United States district courts in all 94 federal judicial districts nationwide and constitutes the community corrections arm of the Federal Judiciary. It administers probation and supervised release under United States federal law.Vesting Clauses
In United States constitutional law, the Vesting Clauses are three provisions in the United States Constitution which vest the United States' legislative power in the United States Congress, the executive power in the President, and judicial power in the Federal judiciary of the United States. The Constitution thus explicitly creates a separation of powers among the three branches of the federal government of the United States.
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