Government and Politics - The Judicial Branch



The judicial branch is responsible for passing judgment on legal cases that challenge or require interpretation of acts of Congress and for trying criminal cases in which the defendant is accused of violating federal law. Federal courts also have appellate jurisdiction over state laws when challenged on constitutional grounds, and jurisdiction over cases involving more than one state, citizens of more than one state, or foreign parties.

The judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts, including the Courts of Appeal (also known as Circuit Courts or Appellate Courts), federal district courts, bankruptcy courts, and courts of federal claims. The courts of the federal judiciary hear both civil and criminal cases appealed from state courts. Their original jurisdiction covers cases relating to patents, trademarks, claims against the federal government, bankruptcy, financial securities, maritime law, and international claims.

As a separate branch of government, the judiciary is independent of the other two branches, subject only to the checks and balances defined in the Constitution. An independent federal judiciary is considered essential to ensure fairness and equal justice for all citizens.

- Abridged from State Dept. Publications and other U.S. government materials
The Federal Court System
The Courts
The Administration of the U.S. Courts
Legal Information

[Last Updated: 12/6/2010]
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