The United States federal courts comprise the Judiciary Branch of government organized under the Constitution and laws of the federal government of the United States. The federal courts often are called the guardians of the Constitution because their rulings protect rights and liberties guaranteed by it. Through fair and impartial judgments, the federal courts interpret and apply the law to resolve disputes. The courts do not make the laws. That is the responsibility of Congress. Nor do the courts have the power to enforce the laws, as enforcement is an executive function.
The federal courts are comprised of the following:
- U.S. Supreme Court
- U.S. Courts of Appeals
- U.S. District Courts
- Bankruptcy Courts
The appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court over decisions of the lower federal courts is subject to the exceptions and regulations made by Congress. 28 USCS § 1254, provides that, cases in the courts of appeals may be reviewed by the Supreme Court by the following methods:
(1) By writ of certiorari granted upon the petition of any party to any civil or criminal case, before or after rendition of judgment or decree;
(2) By certification at any time by a court of appeals of any question of law in any civil or criminal case as to which instructions are desired, and upon such certification the Supreme Court may give binding instructions or require the entire record to be sent up for decision of the entire matter in controversy.
Federal appellate courts, as provided under 28 USCS § 1295, have jurisdiction of appeals from all final decisions of the District Courts of the United States. The Federal appellate courts also have jurisdiction over appeals of various interlocutory decisions.
While formerly it was provided that any party could appeal to the Supreme Court an interlocutory or final decision of any court of the United States holding an act of Congress unconstitutional in any civil action to which the United States was a party, in 1988 the mandatory appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was eliminated. Thus, effective September 25, 1988, a district court judgment rendered on or after that date may not be appealed directly to the Supreme Court. Instead, appeals from district court judgments finding acts of Congress unconstitutional and entered after the effective date of the repeal must be taken to the appropriate court of appeals. In rare instances, appellate jurisdiction is provided for particular types of decisions of the district courts; for instance, a party in an action by the United States for equitable relief under the antitrust laws may seek direct Supreme Court review of a final judgment by filing with the district judge, within 15 days of the filing of a notice of appeal, an application for an order stating that immediate consideration of the appeal by the Supreme Court is of general public importance in the administration of justice[i].
United States Bankruptcy Courts are legislative courts which were created under Article I of the Constitution. They function as units of the district courts and have subject-matter jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases. Because the federal district courts have original and exclusive jurisdiction over all cases arising under the bankruptcy code, (see 28 U.S.C. § 1334(a)), bankruptcy cases cannot be filed in state court. Each of the 94 federal judicial districts handles bankruptcy matters. The overwhelming majority of all proceedings in bankruptcy are held before a United States bankruptcy judge, whose decision in all matters is final, subject to appeals to the district court. In some judicial circuits, appeals may be taken to a Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (“BAP”).
[i] 15 USCS § 29