Study Guide

Judicial Branch & Supreme Court - FAQ

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How many courts did the US Constitution establish?

Only one. Under Article III, Section 1 the framers created the Supreme Court, yet they established no other judicial bodies. Instead, the framers gave Congress the power to create inferior courts as it saw fit.

How are federal judges selected?

Federal judges—Supreme Court justices, court of appeals judges, and district court judges—are nominated by the president of the United States. The Senate Judiciary Committee then conducts confirmation hearings for each nominee. If the Senate chooses to confirm the nomination, the judge is appointed to the bench.

How many justices sit on the United States Supreme Court?

Nine, including one chief justice and eight associate justices; the number is odd in order to prevent ties.

In addition to the Supreme Court, what courts make up the federal judiciary?

Beneath the Supreme Court are two distinct types of federal inferior courts: the Constitutional Courts (12 US Courts of Appeals, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, 94 District Courts, and the US Court of International Trade) and the Special Courts (the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the Courts of the District of Columbia, the US Court of Appeals for Veterans' Claims, the US Court of Federal Claims, the US Tax Court, and the Territorial Courts located in Guam, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands).

What types of cases fall within the jurisdiction of federal courts?

Cases involving questions of constitutionality, cases in which one of the involved parties is a US official or agency, disputes between states or residents within two different states, disputes involving a foreign government, and cases involving incidents in US waters.

Explain the difference between original jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction.

A court with original jurisdiction has the power to review a case before any other court, while a court with appellate jurisdiction has the authority to hear cases decided by lower courts and to reverse, affirm, or modify those decisions. Some courts, such as US District Courts, have original but not appellate jurisdiction; courts of appeals have only appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court possesses both original and appellate jurisdiction.

What is the court of final appeal?

The United States Supreme Court.

What is judicial review?

The authority to decide whether or not a law is unconstitutional.

Which court or courts have the power of judicial review?

Only the United States Supreme Court.

For which federal courts are judges appointed for life?

Supreme Court, US District Courts, US Court of Appeals, US Court of International Trade, and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. (Judges are appointed for fifteen-year terms in the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the US Tax Court, the US Court of Federal Claims, and the US Court of Appeals for Veterans' Claims. Judges who sit on the District Court of Appeals are chosen for eight-year terms. Those in the Courts of the District of Columbia serve for four years.)

Who sets the salaries for federal judges?

The United States Congress.

What is the difference between a federal criminal case and a federal civil case?

In the federal court system, a criminal case is defined as one in which the defendant is tried for something that Congress has designated as a federal crime, such as mail fraud, counterfeiting, or bank robbery. Federal civil cases, on the other hand, originate under bankruptcy, copyright, tax, civil rights, and other federal statues.

How often may a losing party in a case appeal to a higher court for a review of the decision?

A losing party in a case has the right to file a notice of appeal to an appellate court once. That court reviews the case and decides to affirm, reverse, or modify the original ruling, or it may send the case back to the lower court. If the appellate court upholds the lower court's ruling, the losing party can request a review of the case by yet an even higher court. However, after the first appeal, a court can refuse to hear any additional appeals.

How is a writ of certiorari similar to a certificate? How are the two different?

Both a writ of certiorari and a certificate serve to transfer a case to the Supreme Court from a lower court, although the methods by which each work to remove a case from a lower court differ; a writ of certiorari is an order by the Supreme Court to the lower court to deliver all records of a case so that the justices can review the decision, while a certificate is a request placed by a lower court asking the Supreme Court to hear a case to help certify its ruling.

How does a majority opinion differ from a concurring opinion?

The majority of justices or judges of a court provide the majority opinion, which is an explanation of the final ruling. It can be accompanied by a concurring opinion, which agrees with the majority but applies different reasoning for the decision.

How many Supreme Court justices must agree to hear a case before it can be placed on the docket?


What is the major significance of the 1803 case Marbury v. Madison for the judicial branch of government?

It established the Supreme Court's power of judicial review; that is, its right to review and take action against any legislation—local, state, or federal—it deems to be unconstitutional.

What is the role of the Court of Appeals for Veterans' Claims?

This court has exclusive jurisdiction to review cases decided by the Board of Veterans' Appeals in the Department of Veterans' Affairs. This means that the vast majority of the cases on its docket involve disputes over veterans' benefits.

Can cases tried by a military commission be appealed?

Yes, but its decisions can only be appealed with the approval of the president (the Commander in Chief). Critics of military commissions charge that, because rulings against enemy forces can only be appealed with the approval of the Commander in Chief, these courts violate the rights of defendants.

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