The U.S. Circuit Court was established by law, via an act passed by the U.S. Congress and approved by the President. Many people operate under the understandable assumption that the U.S. Circuit Court was established by the U.S. Constitution. In fact, the only court established by the U.S. Constitution is the Supreme Court of the United States.
Circuit Courts Definition
In considering the Circuit Court definition, the U.S. Courts of Appeals are the intermediate appellate courts in the federal judicial system. U.S. Courts of Appeals are tribunals situated between U.S. District Courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.
When it comes to Circuit Court access, a party to a civil or criminal case brought in a U.S. District Court has what is known as an appeal of right to the Court of Appeals. For example, Circuit Court access permits an individual who loses a civil or criminal case on the District Court level to appeal that judicial decision to the Court of Appeals. Because the circuit courts definition is established by statute, it can be changed by an act of Congress signed into law by the President of the United States.
Organization of U.S. Circuit Courts
Congress has established 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals. 12 of the appellate courts are created based on geographic considerations. In addition, there is a Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, a tribunal that covers the entire United States. The federal appellate court has nationwide jurisdiction based upon the subject matter of certain types of cases on appeal.
There are other judicial bodies in the federal court system that bear the moniker “court of appeals.” However, these tribunals address appeals from administrative agencies within the federal system and not from lower courts.
The 12 appellate districts based on geography cover specifically designated states. Each of these 12 appellate courts sits or are headquartered at a designated U.S. city. Individual Circuit Court of Appeals is located in the following cities:
- First Circuit – Boston
- Second Circuit – New York City
- Third Circuit – Philadelphia
- Fourth Circuit – Richmond
- Fifth Circuit – New Orleans
- Sixth Circuit – Cincinnati
- Seventh Circuit – Chicago
- Eighth Circuit – St. Louis
- Ninth Circuit – San Francisco
- Tenth Circuit – Denver
- Eleventh Circuit – Atlanta
- District of Columbia – Washington, D.C.
The Circuit Court Judge
At the present time, Congress has authorized a total of 179 judgeships on the U.S. Courts of Appeal across the United States. As of this writing, Congress has authorized a U.S. Court of Appeals Judge a salary of $215,400 annually.
A person is nominated by the President of the United States to be a Court of Appeals Judge. The nomination is then submitted to the U.S. Senate for approval.
When a nomination is submitted by the President to the Senate, hearings typically are conducted on the qualifications and fitness of a nominee to serve on the Court. Historically, 67 favorable votes were needed to advance a Court of Appeals nominee onto the floor of the Senate for a final up or down vote on the nomination. During the Administration of President Barack Obama, that rule was changed. A simple majority is not all that is needed to advance a Court of Appeals nominee on for a final vote by the Senate.
A Circuit Court Judge has a lifetime tenure. With that said, when a Federal Circuit Court Judge reaches the age of 65, he or she can transition to what is known as “senior status.” A Federal Circuit Court Judge on senior status maintains an office, a staff, and presides over cases brought before the Court. A Judge on this status continues to receive his or her salary. A Senior Appeals Court Judge has broad latitude in picking and choosing the appellate panels he or she will sit on, on the cases he or she will hear.
Due to the number of cases in the federal appellate court system, the utilization of senior judges proves invaluable in keeping up with caseloads. In many U.S. Circuit Courts, there are nearly as many judges on senior status as there are regularly sitting jurists.
Circuit Court Vs District Court
There are a number of factors to bear in mind when considering Circuit Court vs District Court. The District Court is the general trial court within the federal judicial system. Civil lawsuits and criminal cases are tried in U.S. District Courts.
There are a total of 94 federal judicial districts. These include at least one federal district in every U.S. state and territory. Some states have more than one federal judicial district, depending on the population of that jurisdiction. Each federal judicial district has at least one U.S. courthouse, although most have more than one.
At the present time there are 678 District Court judgeships authorized by the U.S. Congress. As is the case with the Court of Appeals, judges of the District Courts can take senior status at the age of 65. As an aside, there is no such process for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice to take senior status.
When it comes to criminal cases, the four busiest District Courts are District of New Mexico, Western District of Texas, Southern District of Texas, and the District of Arizona. These are all courts along the U.S. and Mexico border, many of the criminal cases involving drug-related crimes.
Clerk of Circuit Court
Each appellate district has a Clerk of Circuit Court. The Clerk is a key official of the Circuit Court. The Clerk oversees the office in which all pleadings are filed in any type of Circuit Court case. This includes legal documents that include everything from indictments in criminal cases to complaints in civil lawsuits.
The Clerk is appointed by the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for a particular circuit. The Clerk serves at the pleasure of the Court. There is one Clerk for each Circuit, who in turn appoints a support staff of deputies to assist in overseeing the duties of the office.
Circuit Court Procedure
A major distinction between a Circuit Court of Appeals and a District Court is found in the fact that trials are not held on the appellate court level. In fact, as a general matter, new evidence is not permitted to be presented to a Circuit Court.
The process of lodging an appeal with the Court of Appeals begins with filing a legal document known as a notice of appeal. Even attorneys make an incorrect assumption about a notice of appeal. They incorrectly conclude that a notice of appeal is filed with a Circuit Court. In fact, a notice of appeal is filed with the Clerk of the District Court in which a case originally was pursued. The notice of appeal is designed to put the trial-level court, and all parties to a case, on notice that a party to a case intends to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
There is a specific timeframe in which a notice of appeal must be filed. Filing the notice of appeal in a timely manner is considered what legally is known as a jurisdictional act. In other words, the failure to file a notice of appeal in a timely manner will result in the Circuit Court not having jurisdiction to hear an appeal. In other words, missing the deadline nearly always prevents a party to a District Court case from seeking an appeal.
The next primary step in a Circuit Court appeal is what is known as docketing the case. This process involves filing pleadings that include a docketing statement with the Clerk of Circuit Court. The docketing statement, and associated materials, set forth the primary grounds upon which an appeal is being lodged.
The Circuit Court then establishes a general schedule for how an appeal will progress. The primary element of this schedule is when the briefs are submitted by the parties to an appeal. The appellant and appellee briefs set forth the basic arguments of the parties to the case. These briefs argue about why the decision of the District Court should or should not be changed.
In some Circuit Court cases, a hearing is scheduled. However, an appellate court does not conduct hearings in all appeals.
A hearing is conducted before what is known as a panel of the Court of Appeals. Indeed, each case is assigned to a specific panel of judges from the appellate court. Typically, a Court of Appeals panel consists of three judges.
Ultimately, a panel issues a decision in an appeal. A party has the ability to request a reconsideration of the initial decision of the initial decision of the court. In addition, a party has the ability to request what is called a hearing en banc. A hearing en banc is a hearing on a case before the entire Court of Appeals for a particular circuit. The appellate court can grant or deny a hearing en banc at its own discretion.
In the vast majority of cases, the Circuit Court is the court of last resort. Although a litigant in a civil or criminal case has the right to appeal from a district to appellate court, there typically is no such right to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The vast majority of cases initially presented to the U.S. Supreme Court are brought to that court on what is called a request for a writ of certiorari. This is a pleading or legal document that requests the Supreme Court to exercise its discretion and take an appeal from a Circuit Court. The U.S. Supreme Court nearly always denies a writ of certiorari and permit an additional appeal of a case.
The Rules of Procedure of the Circuit Court
The operation and procedures of the U.S. Court of Appeals are not only governed by federal statutes, but also by the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure are established by the various Courts of Appeals and are subject to change. Indeed, the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure are issued in text form annually to ensure that attorneys practicing before the appellate courts are kept up to speed on the status of court practice and procedure.
Admission to the Bar of a U.S. Court of Appeals
An attorney cannot automatically appear before a U.S. Court of Appeals, even though he or she has a valid law license and is admitted to practice before one or another of the U.S. District Courts. In order to obtain admission to practice and appear before a U.S. Court of Appeals, a lawyer must submit an application. Provided an attorney is duly authorized to appear before a District Court in an appellate district, legal counsel will be granted admission to appear before a particular Court of Appeals.