United States federal courts

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The United States federal courts is the system of courts organized under the United States Constitution and laws of the federal government of the United States. The federal courts decide disputes involving the Constitution and laws passed by Congress.

Altogether, almost 1,770 judgeships are authorized in the federal court system. The federal courts hear far fewer cases than do the state courts, but federal court cases tend more often to be of national significance.


The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the nation and leads the judicial branch of the federal government.

Boundaries of the federal Circuit and District Courts

Circuit Courts

The United States Courts of Appeals are the intermediate appellate courts of the nation. There are thirteen of these courts.

District Courts

The United States District Courts are the trial courts of the federal courts. This level of court is composed of ninety-four different courts.

Bankruptcy Courts

The United States Bankruptcy Courts handle matters of bankruptcy across the nation. Courts correspond with the jurisdiction of the United States District Courts.

Courts of specific subject-matter jurisdiction

There are seven courts of subject-matter jurisdiction in the federal court system. Most of these are Article I tribunals established by the United States Congress. For a summary of these courts, see Federal subject-matter jurisdiction courts.

Former courts


Article III judges

Article III judges refer to judges who serve on courts authorized by Article III of the Constitution, which created and enumerated the powers of the judiciary. Those judges are: justices of the Supreme Court, judges of the Circuit Courts of Appeal, judges of the District Courts and judges of the Court of International Trade. These judges are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by Congress before joining the court. These judges serve life terms.[1]

Did you know that only magistrate and bankruptcy judges are required to be lawyers? There is no statutory requirement that Article III judges have any legal training![1]

Non-Article III judges

Article III judges are not the only ones serving the federal judiciary. Notably, bankruptcy judges and magistrate judges also contribute to case resolution.

Bankruptcy judges serve fourteen-year renewable terms after being appointed by the judges of the corresponding Circuit Court of Appeal.

Magistrate judges serve eight-year renewable terms and are appointed by a majority vote of active district judges on the court.[2]

Non-judge members of the judiciary

The judicial branch is supported by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Number of federal judges

The number of federal judicial positions is set by the United States Congress, which authorizes a set number of judge positions for each level of the courts and makes adjustments as necessary.[3][4]

Article III

Article I

Other branches

Executive branch

The most integral responsibility of the executive branch as pertains to the judiciary is to nominate and appoint judges for service on the federal courts. See this category for a list of every judge appointed by each president throughout our nation's history.

For a list of current vacancies on the federal courts, see the Federal Court Vacancy Warning System.

The Cabinet level post of United States Attorney General is the highest ranking member of the United States Department of Justice. He or she is responsible for the United States Attorneys assigned to each judicial district, as well as the Assistant United States Attorneys serving.

The United States Solicitor General argues cases on behalf of the federal government.

Legislative branch


The United States Senate is responsible for confirming federal judges following appointment by the president. The Senate Judiciary Committee evaluates nominees and considers federal legislation pertaining to the third branch.

Senators are also charged with recommending nominees to the president for appointment to federal courts in their respective states.

House of Representatives

The Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives considers and recommends legislation pertaining to the judicial branch.

Federal Court Projects on Ballotpedia

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See also