The Federal Court System

Most trials are handled at the state level; what does the federal court system do? Follow along to learn more!

Federal Court
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Understanding the Federal Court System

If you get called for jury duty, it’s unlikely you’ll be heading to a federal courthouse to hear the case. Most trials are handled at the state level; what does the federal court system do?

Structure of Federal Court System

Most legal issues are sorted out in state courts. From the Scopes monkey trial to the acquittal of Casey Anthony, many of the memorable court cases over the years have been conducted at the state level.

Federal courts, on the other hand, handle trials over violations of federal law as well as hearing appeals of decisions in lower courts.

U.S. Supreme Court

1 court

9 justices, appointed for life, confirmed by Senate

Cases typically move to Supreme Court as appeals of lower federal and state courts

U.S. Courts of Appeal

13 circuits (12 regional, 1 for federal circuit)

3 judges each, appointed for life, confirmed by Senate

Only hears cases on appeal

U.S. District Courts

94 districts in 50 states and territories

678 judges, appointed for life, confirmed by Senate

No appellate jurisdiction; original jurisdiction over most cases; each district court also has a court to handle bankruptcy cases

Federal Court System Employment

To operate such a massive court system that spans the entire country requires a huge infrastructure of legal professionals. Those who work in the federal court system can include:



Public defenders


Probation officers

IT managers



Case administrators

Courtroom deputies

Court reporters

Jury administrators

Legal secretaries

Financial and procurement specialists

Human resources

Federal Court System Workload

The federal judiciary handles a huge number of cases each year, but is the workload rising or falling?


Appeals to Supreme Court that are heard by the court

Appeals court filings (change 2012-13)

Total filings: -0.3%

Civil appeals: -2.4%

Criminal appeals: -2.8%

Administrative agency appeals: +0.5%

Bankruptcy appeals: +26.6%

Original proceedings: +17.9%


Decline in filings for civil cases and criminal defendants in district courts, 2012-13

Change in bankruptcy filings, 2012-13

Chapter 7: -16%

Chapter 11: -13%

Chapter 12: -24%

Chapter 13: -10%


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