Circuit Courts vs. District Courts


In addition to the United States Supreme Court, the federal judiciary is comprised of District Courts and Circuit Courts (or Federal courts of appeals).

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, meaning they usually only hear cases authorized by the United States Constitution or federal statutes. There are exemptions to this such as cases entirely based on state law being brought to federal court under “diversity jurisdiction.” Diversity jurisdiction allows a plaintiff of one state to file a lawsuit in federal court when the defendant is located in a different state. In such cases, the “amount in controversy” must be more than $75,000. Criminal cases may not be brought under diversity jurisdiction.

District Courts are “lower” and have the responsibility for holding trials. Litigation goes first to the District Court level. Circuit Courts are appellate courts that do not hold trials but are for appeals for cases decided by the lower court. Several different district courts may fall under the same appellate (circuit) court. District courts hear both civil and criminal cases.

In a District Court case, only one judge is assigned to a case. There are 94 District Courts throughout the US and the associated territories, including Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and the Northern Mariana Islands.There are over 670 district court judges nationwide. Each federal district also has a bankruptcy court for those proceedings. Additionally, some courts have nationwide jurisdiction for issues such as tax (United States Tax Court), claims against the federal government (United States Court of Federal Claims), and international trade (United States Court of International Trade).

The Circuit Court System is smaller with only administrative regions. Many of the Circuit Court systems are spread over many buildings and cities. Circuit Court judges rotate through each of these regions in the “circuit.” Each case in circuit court has a panel of three judges. Though it’s rare, the entire circuit court may consider certain appeals in a process called an “en banc hearing.” The Ninth Circuit has a different process for en banc than the rest of the circuits.

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Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

(United States Supreme Court) – In a case challenging two provisions of Texas’ House Bill 2 (H.B. 2). the ‘admitting-privileges requirement’ and the ‘surgical-center requirement’, the Fifth Circuit reversal of the District Court’s decision, concluding that res judicata barred the District Court from holding the admitting-privileges requirement unconstitutional statewide and that res judicata also barred the challenge to the surgical-center provision, is reversed where: 1) petitioners’ constitutional claims are not barred by res judicata; and 2) both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution.
FindLaw Opinion Summaries – United States Supreme Court


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Microsoft Wins Appeal on Overseas Data Searches – New York Times

International Business Times UK
Microsoft Wins Appeal on Overseas Data Searches
New York Times
In the case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a lower court's ruling that Microsoft must turn over email communications for a suspect in a narcotics investigation stored in a Microsoft data center in Dublin. The case
Microsoft wins landmark court battle over email privacyInternational Business Times UK
Microsoft Wins Ireland Email Case AppealeWeek
Microsoft wins landmark appeal over seizure of foreign emailsReuters
CNET –Washington Times – –Amlaw
all 232 news articles »

united states court of appeals – Google News

Heffernan v. City of Paterson

(United States Supreme Court) – In a suit brought by a demoted police officer, claiming that the police chief and other defendants had demoted him because, in their mistaken view, he had engaged in conduct that constituted protected speech, the Third Circuit’s decision, that plaintiff’s claim was actionable under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 only if his employer’s action was prompted by plaintiff’s actual rather than his perceived exercise of his free-speech rights, is reversed where when an employer demotes an employee out of a desire to prevent the employee from engaging in protected political activity, the employee is entitled to challenge that unlawful action under the First Amendment and section 1983, even if the employer’s actions are based on a factual mistake about the employee’s behavior.
FindLaw Opinion Summaries – United States Supreme Court

Curiel v. Miller

(United States Ninth Circuit) – The District Court’s dismissal as untimely of state prisoner’s federal habeas corpus petition is reversed where the California Supreme Court’s denial of petitioner’s third state habeas petition with reference to In re Swain and People v. Duvall, California Supreme Court cases concerning the state habeas pleading particularity requirement, and with no reference to a California case dealing with untimeliness, demonstrate that the California Supreme Court found petitioner’s third petition to be timely but deficiently pleaded, and in doing so, overruled the prior untimeliness rulings of the Superior Court and the Court of Appeal.
FindLaw Opinion Summaries – Criminal

Manzari v. Associated Newspapers Ltd.

(United States Ninth Circuit) – In an action alleging defamation by a pioneer in the online adult entertainment industry and famous under her professional name, Danni Ashe, the District Court’s order denying the media defendant’s motion to strike a complaint pursuant to California’s anti-SLAPP statute is affirmed where at this stage in the litigation, plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence to move forward with her claim that Daily Mail Online employees acted with actual malice when they published an article implying that she was an HIV-positive sex worker.
FindLaw Opinion Summaries – Civil Procedure