The Federal Courts


rticle III of the U.S. Constitution established the federal judiciary as one of the three equal branches of the federal government. It is the job of the courts to interpret the Constitution and other federal laws, and apply these laws to settle disputes.  When they do this, the courts protect the rights and liberties of American citizens.

Our country operates under a system of federalism, in which power is divided between one national government and other, smaller state or regional governments.

The U.S. government has only certain powers and duties, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution.  Everything else is left to the individual states to govern.

The federal court system has limited jurisdiction, meaning they only hear certain types of cases. Federal courts hear only two types of cases; those that raise a “federal question,” and those involving “diversity of citizenship.”

On the other hand, state courts are courts of “general jurisdiction”.  They hear all the cases not specifically selected for federal courts.


The Types of Federal Courts:

U.S. District Courts:  The United States district courts are the trial courts of the federal court system.  This is where federal cases are tried, where witnesses testify, and federal juries serve.   There are 94 federal district courts in the U.S.  Each district also has a bankruptcy court.

U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal:  There are 13 courts of appeal in the United States.  These courts, called circuit courts, hear appeals from the district courts located in their geographic circuit, and some other lower federal courts.  They review the decisions of these courts to determine if the law was interpreted and applied correctly.

U.S. Supreme Court:  The Supreme Court of the United States is located in Washington, D.C.  It is the highest court in the nation.  The Supreme Court hears appeals from the lower courts.  Most appeals come from the U.S. circuit courts of appeal, but cases may also come from other courts and even the state court system.  The Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court decide which cases to review.

The Federal Courts in the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis: 

  • U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri
  • U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri
  • Eighth Circuit U.S. Courts of Appeals
The U.S. Constitution

Article III.

Section. 1.

The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office. Visit the National Archives to see the full text.

Federal Court Links

The Administrative Office of the Federal Courts

The Federal Judicial Center

The U.S. Supreme Court