Describe the differences between the U.S. Ar courts, circuit courts, and the can be fried CourtExplain the significance of criterion in the courts’ operationsDescribe how judges space selected for their positions

Congress has made numerous changes to the commonwealth judicial mechanism throughout the years, however the three-tiered structure of the device is quite clear-cut today. Federal cases typically begin at the lowest federal level, the district (or trial) court. Losing parties may appeal their instance to the greater courts—first to the circuit courts, or U.S. Courts of appeals, and then, if liked by the justices, come the U.S. Can be fried Court. Decision of the higher courts room binding top top the lower courts. The precedent collection by every ruling, specifically by the can be fried Court’s decisions, both builds on principles and guidelines collection by previously cases and also frames the recurring operation the the courts, steering the direction of the entire system. Dependence on criterion has enabled the commonwealth courts to run with logic and consistency that has helped validate their duty as the key interpreters the the Constitution and also the law—a legitimacy particularly an important in the United states where citizens perform not selected federal judges and also justices however are still topic to their rulings.

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The three Tiers of commonwealth Courts

There space ninety-four U.S. district courts in the fifty states and also U.S. Territories, of i beg your pardon eighty-nine room in the says (at least one in each state). The others are in Washington, DC; Puerto Rico; Guam; the U.S. Virgin Islands; and the northern Mariana Islands. These are the trial court of the national system, in which federal situations are tried, evil testimony is heard, and evidence is presented. No district court crosses state lines, and also a single judge oversees every one. Some situations are heard through a jury, and some space not.

There space thirteen U.S. courts that appeals, or circuit courts, eleven across the country and two in Washington, DC (the DC circuit and the federal circuit courts). Each court is overseen by a rotating dashboard of three judges who carry out not host trials yet instead testimonial the rulings that the trial (district) courts in ~ their geographic circuit. Together authorized by Congress, there are at this time 179 judges. The circuit court are regularly referred to together the intermediate appellate courts the the commonwealth system, because their rulings deserve to be appealed to the U.S. Can be fried Court. Moreover, different circuits deserve to hold legit and social views, which can lead to different outcomes on similar legal questions. In together scenarios, clarification native the U.S. Can be fried Court can be needed.

President Obama has actually made 2 appointments come the U.S. Supreme Court, justices Sonia Sotomayor (a) in 2009 and Elena Kagan (b) in 2010. Due to the fact that their appointments, both justices have actually made rulings constant with a much more liberal ideology. The death of justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016 has actually prompted the many recent discussion of appointing a new justice, with Obama nominating Merrick Garland to fill the vacant seat.

Presidential nominees because that the courts generally reflect the cook executive’s own ideological position. Through a confirmed nominee offer a life time appointment, a president’s ideological legacy has actually the potential to live on lengthy after the finish of his or she term.<7> President Obama surely thought about the ideological leanings the his 2 Supreme Court appointees, and both Sotomayor and Kagan have actually consistently rule in a more liberal ideology system direction. The timing of the 2 nominations additionally dovetailed nicely v the democratic Party’s gaining control of the Senate in the 111th conference of 2009–2011, which aided guarantee your confirmations.

But some nominees turn out to be surprises or finish up judgment in ways that the president that nominated them did not anticipate. Democratic-appointed judges occasionally side v conservatives, simply as Republican-appointed judges sometimes side v liberals. Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower reportedly called his nomination the Earl Warren together chief justice—in one era the saw an extensive broadening the civil and criminal rights—”the best damn fool mistake” that had ever before made. Sandra job O’Connor, nominated by Republican chairman Ronald Reagan, often ended up being a champion because that women’s rights. David Souter, nominated by Republican George H. W. Bush, much more often than not sided through the Court’s for free wing. And also even ~ above the present-day court, Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, has become notorious together the Court’s totter vote, occasionally siding v the more conservative justices but sometimes not. Existing chief justice john Roberts, though most generally an ardent member that the Court’s an ext conservative wing, has actually twice voted come uphold provisions the the Affordable care Act.

Once a justice has started his or her life time tenure top top the Court and also years start to pass, many human being simply forget which president nominated the or her. For far better or worse, periodically it is only a controversial nominee who leaves a president’s legacy behind. Because that example, the Reagan presidency is frequently remembered for two controversial nominees come the can be fried Court—Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg, the former accused of taking an overly conservative and “extremist view of the Constitution”<8> and the latter of having actually used marijuana while a student and then a professor in ~ Harvard University. Chairman George W. Bush’s nomination that Harriet Miers was withdrawn in the challenge of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, questioning she ideological leanings and especially her qualifications, saying she to be not prepared for the job.<9>

After Miers’ withdrawal, the Senate walk on to confirm Bush’s succeeding nomination that Samuel Alito, who stays on the Court today. The 2016 presidential election is particularly important due to the fact that the following president is likely to choose three justices.


Presidential nominations come the can be fried Court periodically go awry, as portrayed by the failure nominations of Robert Bork (a), Douglas Ginsburg (b), and Harriet Miers (c).

Presidential legacy and also controversial nominations notwithstanding, there is one certainty about the as whole look the the federal court system: What was as soon as a predominately white, male, Protestant institution is today much much more diverse. As a look at at the table reveals, the member of the supreme Court has readjusted with the passing years.

Supreme Court justice Firsts
First CatholicRoger B. Taney (nominated in 1836)
First JewLouis J. Brandeis (1916)
First (and only) previous U.S. PresidentWilliam Howard Taft (1921)
First african AmericanThurgood Marshall (1967)
First WomanSandra job O’Connor (1981)
First spain AmericanSonia Sotomayor (2009)

The reduced courts space also more diverse today. In the past few decades, the U.S. Judiciary has expanded to include an ext women and also minorities in ~ both the federal and also state levels.<10> However, the variety of women and people of color on the courts still lags behind the overall number of white men. As of 2009, the commonwealth judiciary is composed of 70 percent white men, 15 percent white women, and between 1 and also 8 percent african American, spain American, and also Asian American men and also women.<11>


The framework of today’s three-tiered commonwealth court system, largely established by Congress, is fairly clear-cut. The system’s dependence on precedent ensures a consistent and stable school that is still capable of slowly evolving over the years—such together by significantly reflecting the diverse population it serves. Presidents hope their judicial nominees will certainly make rulings continual with the chief executive’s own ideological leanings. But the life time tenure of commonwealth court members offers them the versatility to action in means that may or may not reflect what their nominating president intended. Perfect alignment in between nominating president and also justice is no expected; a judge might be for free on many issues yet conservative ~ above others, or vice versa. However, presidents have actually sometimes to be surprised by the decision made by their nominees, such together President Eisenhower to be by justice Earl Warren and also President Reagan by justice Anthony Kennedy.

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Practice Questions

Do you believe federal judges should be elected rather than appointed? Why or why not?When it pertains to filling judicial location in the commonwealth courts, perform you believe race, gender, religion, and ethnicity need to matter? Why or why not?

2. The United says has become much an ext diverse, and it is just fitting that the judicial branch an ext accurately reflects the demographic composition the the population. At the same time, justice positions have to be fill by the many competent and qualified candidates.