If you care about equality, reproductive rights, social justice, corporate accountability, civil liberties, clean air and water, privacy, and fairness, then you care about our federal courts.
Every day, our federal courts decide cases that greatly impact our lives – as individuals, employees, and consumers.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in America, making decisions that affect everyone in America. The Court consists of nine justices; these justices are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and they serve for life.
While thousands of decisions are appealed to the Supreme Court each year, the Court decides fewer than 100 cases. In contrast, over 50,000 cases are filed in federal courts of appeals and over 340,000 are filed in district courts every year. For most Americans, the lower courts have the final say on their rights under the Constitution and whether critical legal protections will be properly enforced.
That means our lower courts have the final word on thousands of cases spanning hundreds of issues – including the issues that matter most to the progressive community. These courts are making decisions that affect our civil and constitutional rights, environmental and workplace safeguards, access to health care, and other fundamental protections.
What are lower courts?
The term “lower courts” encompasses both the 94 federal district courts and the 13 appellate courts that make up our federal judiciary. The judges on each court are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Unlike elected officials, judges serve a lifetime appointment and can only be removed through the impeachment process.
District courts serve as federal trial courts. They hear both civil and criminal cases that involve issues or parties over which they have jurisdiction. Among other things, district courts have jurisdiction over cases that involve the United States, the Constitution, and other federal laws. There is at least one district court in every state, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the District of Columbia to hear these cases. Once a case is decided, it may be appealed to one of the federal appellate courts.
There are 13 appellate courts that make up the U.S. Courts of Appeals. There are 12 regional, or circuit, courts that hear challenges to decisions made by the district courts in their jurisdiction and to decisions of federal administrative agencies. The thirteenth court, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, hears specialized cases from across the nation, like those involving patent laws.
AFJ works to highlight the important role that the courts play in our everyday lives, and fights to ensure that only highly-qualified and fair-minded individuals are confirmed to the bench.