Federal court is a term used to describe the system of courts in the United States that have jurisdiction at the Federal, or national level. The Federal system of courts oversees matters concerning the United States Constitution and Federal laws, rules and regulations. This is in distinction to the state court system, which has jurisdiction over matters concerning the laws, rules and regulations of the individual states.
The Federal court system consists of three different levels. The first or lowest level in the Federal court system consists of the U.S. District Court. The District Courts are the trial courts of the Federal judicial system and most Federal court cases originate in a District Court.
The middle level of the Federal court system consists of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which is divided into 12 regional, or “Circuit” courts. When a decision is reached in U.S. District Court, a party may request that the decision be reviewed by a three judge panel from the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals may choose to overturn a decision of the lower court, have the case reviewed by the entire Circuit Court, remand the case back to the District Court for re-review, or do nothing and allow the original decision to stand.
The highest court in the Federal court system is the Supreme Court of the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices. The Supreme Court may, according to their discretion and guidelines set by the U.S. Congress, review cases from the U.S. Court of Appeals and cases from state supreme courts that have Federal implications. In the United States, the Supreme Court is the last court that a case may be appealed to. Decisions of the Supreme Court cannot be appealed.
The U.S. Supreme Court also has the ability to invalidate legislation, or actions of the government which the Court determines to be unconstitutional. This power has come to be known as “Judicial Review.” Judicial review is an important element of the system of “checks and balances” of the U.S. Federal government and provides the U.S. Supreme Court with a level of influence and power not often found in the judicial system of other nations.