The U.S. Court System


Courts are organized on a federal, state, and local level. Each has varying jurisdictions, nomenclature, and rules. Their judges may be selected, assigned, and disciplined in different ways. By far, most cases in the United States are handled by state court systems. Each state has its own administrative structure for courts. Statistics on case filings are collected by a voluntary association called the National Center for State Courts; national data may be several years out of date. In addition to administrators of courts themselves, officers and staff members of state and local bar associations should be good sources on basic court issues, as are faculty members at law schools and lawyers who practice before the courts. The National Center for Courts and Media, part of the University of Nevada Reno, also is a good source for many court questions. Beware of variations in court names. A prime example is New York State, where the trial courts are called the “Supreme Court”–a label that in most states is reserved for the highest appellate court. News stories often confuse federal “circuit” courts, which make final decisions in the appeals on most federal cases, with state appellate courts.

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