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United States — 
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Reviewed 15 September 2013 E-mail: Administrator@LawSource.com

United States Federal Courts

The U.S. federal courts comprise:
  • the Supreme Court,
  • courts of appeals,
  • district courts,
  • bankruptcy courts, and
  • special courts.
  • For a general overview, see “Understanding the Federal Courts” published by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

    The Supreme Court sits in Washington, D.C., and has nine justices, one of whom is the Chief Justice of the United States. The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction in cases involving issues of federal law, whether the cases arise in state courts or federal courts. It also has original jurisdiction in a limited class of cases, such as lawsuits between the states.

    There are 13 federal courts of appeals serving geographic areas called judicial circuits. The Federal Circuit covers the entire country; however, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is a special court of limited jurisdiction. One circuit comprises only the District of Columbia, and each of the remaining 11 circuits comprises three or more states (and territories). See a table below. These courts have appellate jurisdiction over all final judgments (and some interlocutory orders and rulings) of the U.S. district courts and have original jurisdiction to review and enforce orders of various federal administrative agencies.

    Every Supreme Court justice serves ex officio, under assignment by the Chief Justice, as the designated circuit justice for one of the circuits. Some justices serve for two circuits, since there are only nine justices and more than nine circuits.

    There are 94 federal district courts, which are the federal trial courts of general jurisdiction. Each district court serves a geographic area called a judicial district. More than half of the states as well as the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and three territories have a single judicial district each (covering the entire geographic area of the state, district, commonwealth, or territory). The other states comprise two or more judicial districts each. See a table below. The district courts have original jurisdiction in civil cases arising under federal law, criminal cases under federal law, admiralty and maritime cases, and cases between citizens of different states (called “diversity jurisdiction”). Judgments of a district court can be reviewed in the court of appeals for the circuit that includes the district.

    Each district also has a bankruptcy court. Judgments and orders of a bankruptcy court can be reviewed in the district court; or with the parties’ consent, a case could be assigned to a bankruptcy appellate panel comprising some of the judges of the court. Further review can be had in the circuit court of appeals.

    Finally, there are special courts. See a table below. Some of these courts are trial courts having original but limited jurisdiction (the Tax Court, the Court of Federal Claims, the Court of International Trade). The others are appellate courts of limited jurisdiction.

    See also Judgepedia, a Wikipedia-style web site, self-described as “an encyclopedia about judges and courts,” which is maintained by the Sam Adams Alliance (Illinois).

    In addition to the courts mentioned above, there are at least two secret federal courts. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (sometimes referred to as FISC or the FISA court), with eleven judges, has limited jurisdiction “to hear applications for and grant orders approving electronic surveillance anywhere within the United States under the procedures set forth in” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), Pub. L. No. 95-511 [50 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq.], which authorizes electronic surveillance by government agents for the purpose of obtaining “foreign intelligence” information. (See an interview with the former chief judge of the court, published in June 2002.) A related court of review, composed of three judges, has jurisdiction “to review the denial of any application made under” that act. If that court upholds a denial of an application, the government may petition the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. All proceedings at all three judicial levels are secret. See 50 U.S.C. § 1803. (The Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1995, Pub. L. No. 103-359, additionally authorized physical searches; and the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-56, signifcantly amended FISA to expand the government’s intelligence-gathering power. See an overview of the 2001 act by the Congressional Research Service. See also an analysis of the 2001 act by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.)

    Federal Judicial Circuits
    See 28 U.S.C. § 41 et seq. See also a map of the circuits with links to court web sites.
    Circuit (Seat) Included Districts
    1st Circuit
    Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Puerto Rico
    2nd Circuit
    (New York)
    Connecticut, New York, Vermont
    3rd Circuit
    Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virgin Islands
    4th Circuit
    Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia
    5th Circuit 1
    (New Orleans)
    Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas
    6th Circuit
    Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee
    7th Circuit
    Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin
    8th Circuit
    (St. Louis)
    Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota
    9th Circuit
    (San Francisco)
    Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands
    10th Circuit
    Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming
    11th Circuit 1
    Alabama, Florida, Georgia
    D.C. Circuit
    District of Columbia
    Federal Circuit
    [All districts]
     1 Until October 1, 1981, the 5th Circuit included the districts now in the 11th Circuit. See the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Reorganization Act of 1980 [Pub. L. 96-452 (Oct. 14, 1980)].

    U.S. District and Bankruptcy Courts
    See 28 U.S.C. § 81 et seq. (district courts) and § 151 et seq. (bankruptcy courts).
    Middle District of
    Northern District of
    Southern District of
    Alabama [counties] M.D. Ala.
    N.D. Ala.
    S.D. Ala.
    Bankr. M.D. Ala.
    Bankr. N.D. Ala.
    Bankr. S.D. Ala.
    District of Alaska D. Alaska Bankr. D. Alaska
    District of Arizona D. Ariz. Bankr. D. Ariz.
    Eastern District of
    Western District of
    Arkansas [counties] E.D. Ark.
    W.D. Ark.
    Bankr. E.D. Ark.
    Bankr. W.D. Ark.
    Central District of
    Eastern District of
    Northern District of
    Southern District of
    California [counties] C.D. Cal.
    E.D. Cal.
    N.D. Cal.
    S.D. Cal.
    Bankr. C.D. Cal.
    Bankr. E.D. Cal.
    Bankr. N.D. Cal.
    Bankr. S.D. Cal.
    District of Colorado D. Colo. Bankr. D. Colo.
    District of Connecticut D. Conn. Bankr. D. Conn.
    District of Delaware D. Del. Bankr. D. Del.
    Middle District of
    Northern District of
    Southern District of
    Florida [counties] M.D. Fla.
    N.D. Fla.
    S.D. Fla.
    Bankr. M.D. Fla.
    Bankr. N.D. Fla.
    Bankr. S.D. Fla.
    Middle District of
    Northern District of
    Southern District of
    Georgia [counties] M.D. Ga.
    N.D. Ga.
    S.D. Ga.
    Bankr. M.D. Ga.
    Bankr. N.D. Ga.
    Bankr. S.D. Ga.
    District of Hawaii D. Haw. Bankr. D. Haw.
    District of Idaho D. Idaho Bankr. D. Idaho
    Central District of
    Northern District of
    Southern District of
    Illinois [counties] C.D. Ill.
    N.D. Ill.
    S.D. Ill.
    Bankr. C.D. Ill.
    Bankr. N.D. Ill.
    Bankr. S.D. Ill.
    Northern District of
    Southern District of
    Indiana [counties] N.D. Ind.
    S.D. Ind.
    Bankr. N.D. Ind.
    Bankr. S.D. Ind.
    Northern District of
    Southern District of
    Iowa [counties] N.D. Iowa
    S.D. Iowa
    Bankr. N.D. Iowa
    Bankr. S.D. Iowa
    District of Kansas D. Kan. Bankr. D. Kan.
    Eastern District of
    Western District of
    Kentucky [counties] E.D. Ky.
    W.D. Ky.
    Bankr. E.D. Ky.
    Bankr. W.D. Ky.
    Eastern District of
    Middle District of
    Western District of
    Louisiana [parishes] E.D. La.
    M.D. La.
    W.D. La.
    Bankr. E.D. La.
    Bankr. M.D. La.
    Bankr. W.D. La.
    District of Maine D. Me. Bankr. D. Me.
    District of Maryland D. Md. Bankr. D. Md.
    District of Massachusetts D. Mass. Bankr. D. Mass.
    Eastern District of
    Western District of
    Michigan [counties] E.D. Mich.
    W.D. Mich.
    Bankr. E.D. Mich.
    Bankr. W.D. Mich.
    District of Minnesota D. Minn. Bankr. D. Minn.
    Northern District of
    Southern District of
    Mississippi [counties] N.D. Miss.
    S.D. Miss.
    Bankr. N.D. Miss.
    Bankr. S.D. Miss.
    Eastern District of
    Western District of
    Missouri [counties] E.D. Mo.
    W.D. Mo.
    Bankr. E.D. Mo.
    Bankr. W.D. Mo.
    District of Montana D. Mont. Bankr. D. Mont.
    District of Nebraska D. Neb. Bankr. D. Neb.
    District of Nevada D. Nev. Bankr. D. Nev.
    District of New Hampshire D.N.H. Bankr. D.N.H.
    District of New Jersey D.N.J. Bankr. D.N.J.
    District of New Mexico D.N.M. Bankr. D.N.M.
    Eastern District of
    Northern District of
    Southern District of
    Western District of
    New York [counties] E.D.N.Y.
    Bankr. E.D.N.Y.
    Bankr. N.D.N.Y.
    Bankr. S.D.N.Y.
    Bankr. W.D.N.Y.
    Eastern District of
    Middle District of
    Western District of
    North Carolina [counties] E.D.N.C.
    Bankr. E.D.N.C.
    Bankr. M.D.N.C.
    Bankr. W.D.N.C.
    District of North Dakota D.N.D. Bankr. D.N.D.
    Northern District of
    Southern District of
    Ohio [counties] N.D. Ohio
    S.D. Ohio
    Bankr. N.D. Ohio
    Bankr. S.D. Ohio
    Eastern District of
    Northern District of
    Western District of
    Oklahoma [counties] E.D. Okla.
    N.D. Okla.
    W.D. Okla.
    Bankr. E.D. Okla.
    Bankr. N.D. Okla.
    Bankr. W.D. Okla.
    District of Oregon D. Or. Bankr. D. Or.
    Eastern District of
    Middle District of
    Western District of
    Pennsylvania [counties] E.D. Pa.
    M.D. Pa.
    W.D. Pa.
    Bankr. E.D. Pa.
    Bankr. M.D. Pa.
    Bankr. W.D. Pa.
    District of Rhode Island D.R.I. Bankr. D.R.I.
    District of South Carolina D.S.C. Bankr. D.S.C.
    District of South Dakota D.S.D. Bankr. D.S.D.
    Eastern District of
    Middle District of
    Western District of
    Tennessee [counties] E.D. Tenn.
    M.D. Tenn.
    W.D. Tenn.
    Bankr. E.D. Tenn.
    Bankr. M.D. Tenn.
    Bankr. W.D. Tenn.
    Eastern District of
    Northern District of
    Southern District of
    Western District of
    Texas [counties] E.D. Tex.
    N.D. Tex.
    S.D. Tex.
    W.D. Tex.
    Bankr. E.D. Tex.
    Bankr. N.D. Tex.
    Bankr. S.D. Tex.
    Bankr. W.D. Tex.
    District of Utah D. Utah Bankr. D. Utah
    District of Vermont D. Vt. Bankr. D. Vt.
    Eastern District of
    Western District of
    Virginia [counties] E.D. Va.
    W.D. Va.
    Bankr. E.D. Va.
    Bankr. W.D. Va.
    Eastern District of
    Western District of
    Washington [counties] E.D. Wash.
    W.D. Wash.
    Bankr. E.D. Wash.
    Bankr. W.D. Wash.
    Northern District of
    Southern District of
    West Virginia [counties] N.D. W. Va.
    S.D. W. Va.
    Bankr. N.D. W. Va.
    Bankr. S.D. W. Va.
    Eastern District of
    Western District of
    Wisconsin [counties] E.D. Wis.
    W.D. Wis.
    Bankr. E.D. Wis.
    Bankr. W.D. Wis.
    District of Wyoming D. Wyo. Bankr. D. Wyo.
    District of the District of Columbia D.D.C. Bankr. D.D.C.
    District of Guam D. Guam Bankr. D. Guam
    District of the Northern Mariana Islands D. N. Mar. I. Bankr. D. N. Mar. I.
    District of Puerto Rico D.P.R. Bankr. D.P.R.
    District of the Virgin Islands D.V.I. Bankr. D.V.I.

     Special Federal Courts
    Former Court (Estab.) Present Court (Estab.)
    Board of Tax Appeals (1924) Tax Court (1942)
    Boards of Review (1920)
    Courts of Military Review (1968)
    Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (1994)
    Army Court of Criminal Appeals (1994)
    Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals (1994)
    Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (1994)
    Court of Claims (1855)
    Claims Court (1982)
    Court of Federal Claims (1992) 1
    Commerce Court (1910) [Abolished 1913]
    Court of Customs Appeals (1910)
    Court of Customs and Patent Appeals (1929)
    Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (1982)
    Court of Military Appeals (1951) Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (1994)
    Court of Veterans Appeals (1988) Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (1999)
    Customs Court (1926) Court of International Trade (1980) 2
    Emergency Court of Appeals (1942) [Abolished 1961]
    Temporary Emergency Court of Appeals (1971) [Abolished 1993]
     1 See 28 U.S.C. § 171 et seq. (Court of Federal Claims).
     2 See 28 U.S.C. § 251 et seq. (Court of International Trade).


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