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Structure Of The Federal Court System

1563 words - 7 pages

Before the adoption of the United States Constitution, the U.S. was governed by the Articles of Confederation. These articles stated that almost every function of the government was chartered by the legislature known as Congress. There was no distinction between legislative or executive powers. This was a major shortcoming in how the United States was governed as many leaders became dissatisfied with how the government was structured by the Articles of Confederation. They felt that the government was too weak to effectively deal with the upcoming challenges. In 1787, an agreement was made by delegates at the Constitutional Convention that a national judiciary needed to be established. This agreement became known as The Constitution of the United States, which explicitly granted certain powers to each of the three branches of the federal government, while reserving other powers exclusively to the states or to the people as individuals. It is, in its own words, “the supreme Law of the Land” (Shmoop Editorial Team).
The first proposals to this new plan were the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan. The Virginia Plan called for a separation of powers among the government’s three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. Some states proposed this idea and came up with the New Jersey Plan, which called for all of the states to have equal representation from Congress. In order to move forward from the deadlock of the two proposals, the Connecticut Compromise was enacted. This decided that legislature would be bicameral, which meant that there would be two houses: one would have equal representation and one would be based on state population. This unified the states under a federal system. To this day, there are three types of Federal Courts: District Courts, Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court.
District Courts
The Federal District Courts are the “workhorses” of the federal court structure. They are the trial courts. Within limits set by Congress and the Constitution, the district courts have jurisdiction to hear nearly all categories of federal cases, including both civil and criminal matters. There are 94 federal judicial districts, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico (uscourts.gov). Almost every case, civil or criminal, starts at the district court level. These types of cases are questions of fact. A group of citizens known as a jury serve as arbiters. Even though the Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial in criminal and civil cases, this right can be waived by the judge and he/she can become the arbiter. These are referred to as bench trials.
District courts engage primarily in norm enforcement, which is relevant to the administration of justice for an orderly and just society. These norms are symbolized by statutes, prior decisions of the court, and administrative regulations. In criminal cases, the law is clear on what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior so the judge...

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