United States Court of Appeals
The United States courts of appeals (or circuit courts) are the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal courts. The court of appeals was originally created in 1891 and has grown to include thirteen courts.
A court of appeals decides appeals from any of the district courts that are in its federal judicial circuit. The appeals courts also can hear appeals from some administrative agencies. Decisions of the federal appeals courts can, in turn, be appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
There are thirteen United States courts of appeals. In addition, there are other federal courts (such as the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which hears appeals in court-martial cases) that have "Court of Appeals" in their titles.
The eleven "numbered" circuits and the D.C. Circuit are defined by geography. The thirteenth court of appeal is the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. This court has nationwide jurisdiction over certain types of appeals based on what the underlying legal case is about.
All of the courts of appeals also hear appeals from some administrative agency decisions and rulemaking. The largest share of this type of case is heard by the D.C. Circuit. The Federal Circuit hears appeals from specialized trial courts, primarily the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims, as well as appeals from the district courts in patent cases and certain other specialized matters.
Click on your region to find more information about the court of appeals for your state.
- Relevant districts
- First Circuit
- Second Circuit
- Third Circuit
- Fourth Circuit
- Fifth Circuit
- Sixth Circuit
- Seventh Circuit
- Eighth Circuit
- Ninth Circuit
- Tenth Circuit
- Eleventh Circuit
- District of Columbia Circuit
- Federal Circuit
Under each court is listed the U.S. district courts whose decisions, where relevant, are appealed to that circuit.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit contains the following districts:
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit contains the following districts:
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit contains the following districts:
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit contains the following districts:
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit contains the following districts:
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit contains the following districts:
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit contains the following districts:
Federal circuit court judges are appointed for life. They are paid approximately $179,500 annually. At the age of 65, a federal judge may choose to retire with their full salary. They may also choose to go on senior status at age 65, if they have served actively for 15 years.
The rules that govern the procedure in the courts of appeals are the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. In a Court of Appeals, an appeal is almost always heard by a panel of three judges who are randomly selected from the available judges, including senior judges and judges temporarily assigned to the circuit. Some cases, however, receive an en banc hearing; except in the Ninth Circuit, the en banc court consists of all circuit judges on active status, but does not include senior or assigned judges (under some circumstances, a senior judge may participate in an en banc hearing when he or she participated at an earlier stage of the same case).
Historically, certain classes of cases held a right of automatic appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States; that is, one of the parties to the case could appeal a decision of a court of appeals and the Supreme Court had to accept the case. There is no longer any right of automatic appeal for a decision of a Court of Appeals, but a party may apply to that court to review a ruling of the circuit court—called petitioning for a writ of certiorari—and the Supreme Court may, in its discretion, review any such ruling. In extremely rare cases, the Supreme Court may grant certiorari before judgment, thereby removing a case from the Court of Appeals and reviewing the lower court's ruling directly. This procedure was used in the Watergate-related case, United States v. Nixon, and in the 2005 decision involving the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, United States v. Booker.
A Court of Appeals may also certify questions to the Supreme Court. This procedure was formerly used on occasion but is now rare. The Second Circuit, sitting en banc, attempted to use this procedure in United States v. Penaranda, as a result of the Supreme Court's decision in Blakely v. Washington, but the Supreme Court dismissed the certificate after resolving the same issue in another case that had come to the Court through the standard procedure.
Appeals court decisions, unlike trial court decisions, are binding precedent. Other courts in that circuit must, from that point forward, follow the appellate court's guidance in similar cases, regardless of whether the trial judge believes that the case should be decided differently.
Laws may change over time, therefore the law that exists at the time of the appeal may differ from the law that existed at the time of the events being disputed by the litigants. A Court of Appeals applies the law as it exists at the time of the appeal, otherwise it would be handing down decisions that were instantly obsolete. This rule does not, however, apply in criminal cases if the effect would be to create an ex post facto law.
In order to serve as counsel in a case appealed to a circuit court, an attorney must be admitted to the bar of that circuit. The United States does not have a separate bar examination for federal practice (except with respect to patent law). Admission to the bar of a circuit court is granted as a matter of course to any attorney who is admitted to practice law in any state of the United States. The attorney submits an application, pays a fee and takes the oath of admission. Local practice varies as to whether the oath is given in writing or in open court before a judge of the circuit, and most courts of appeals allow the applicant attorney to choose which method he or she prefers.
|Federal Court Caseload Statistics*|
|Year||Starting case load:||Cases filed:||Total cases:||Cases terminated:||Remaining cases||Terminations on merits:||Terminations on Procedure||Cross Appeals:||Total Terminations:||Written decisions per Judge**|
<tr><td colspan="11" style="text-align:left;">*All statistics are taken from the Official Federal Courts' Website and reflect the calendar year through September.
**Time in months from filing to completion.
#This statistic includes cases which have been appealed in higher courts.
##This is the total number of months that any judicial posts had spent vacant that year.</td></tr></table>
When the courts of appeals were created in 1891, one was created for each of the nine circuits then existing, and each court was named the “United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the _____ Circuit.” When a court of appeals was created for the District of Columbia in 1893, it was named the “Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia,” and it was renamed the “United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia” in 1934. In 1948, Congress renamed all of the courts of appeals then existing to their current formal names: the court of appeals for each numbered circuit was named the “United States Court of Appeals for the _____ Circuit,” and the “United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia” became the “United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.” The Tenth Circuit was created in 1929 by subdividing the existing Eighth Circuit, and the Eleventh Circuit was created in 1981 by subdividing the existing Fifth Circuit.
- Official site of the United States Courts
- Georgia Tech, "Federal Court Concepts"
- US Courts, "United States District Court Map"