The American Court System Overview

Subject: Law
Pages: 6
Words: 1449
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College


This assignment is a discussion on the topic of the American Court System. The discussion will focus on the judiciary of the United States at the two levels namely the Federal level and the state level. It will be argued that the American court system is highly decentralized to allow for speedy administration of justice due to the belief that justice delayed is justice denied. The other reason for decentralizing the court system is because the United States has got a high population of people and therefore it is impossible to have all cases centralized at the Federal level. However, there are those cases that originate from the state courts and proceed to the Federal court. In the discussion, the relationship between the Federal court system and the state court system will be illustrated using the state of California and the problem of illegal immigration in the United States as a case study.


The United States government structure is that of Federalism, which was created by the US constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. Federalism creates two types of governments namely the Federal government and the State governments (52 in number). Each state has got its constitution and a government, which is responsible for the running of the State. Due to variations in size, complexity, and populations of various States, the States have other local governments, which are charged with the responsibility of undertaking certain duties and responsibilities as well as providing various services to the citizens. A typical State has got five local governments namely the county, township, municipal, school district, and special district governments (Anagnoson, et al189).

Both the Federal and State governments have three arms of government, which include the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive. The judiciary arm of government in both Federal and State governments is charged with the responsibility of hearing certain types of cases and making rulings on such cases as well as making and interpreting laws in case of any conflict of laws (Anagnoson, et al189).

The judiciary of the United States is composed of two judiciaries namely the Federal (Federal court system) and State judiciaries (State court system). These two court systems are independent of each other but sometimes are linked to each other. The US constitution gives the Federal court system some implicit and explicit powers on some issues like bankruptcy but does not give it powers on others like divorce (Abraham 76).

The rationale behind having the two-court system is to enable the Federal court system to exercise powers over issues granted to it by the US constitution and give the States the powers to exercise authority over issues that the US constituting does not grant to the Federal court system. This means that each court system is supreme on some matters under its right, as granted by either the US constitution or the States constitutions, a concept referred to as separate sovereignty (Anagnoson, et al189).

The Federal judiciary or court system is composed of two major types of courts. The first type is what is referred to as article III courts which comprise circuit courts of appeal, district courts, and the Supreme Court. The second type of court includes magistrate courts, the military court of appeal, bankruptcy courts, US tax court, and the veteran appeals court. The judges of Federal courts are appointed by the president and remain in office as long as they are healthy and portray good behavior and conduct (Federal Judiciary).

The district courts are the ones in which Federal cases begin at. Each State has got a district court. In total, there are 94 district courts in the entire US country, with large States like California having up to four district courts. These courts are also referred to as original jurisdiction courts and are composed of 2 to 28 judges per court who hear both criminal and civil cases (Federal Judiciary).

Circuit courts of appeal comprise 12 regional court circuits spread all over the US in different States. The courts are responsible for hearing cases in which parties are not satisfied with the ruling of the US district courts. During the hearings, the courts only dwell on any mistakes in law made by the district courts but do not take fresh evidence or analyze the facts of the case. They rely on the US district court’s evidence and facts about the cases presented to them (Federal Judiciary).

The US Supreme Court, based in Washington is made of 9 justices and is presided over by the chief justice. The court is at the top of the judiciary of the Federal court system and in the entire country of the US. The court is charged with hearing cases that are referred to it mainly by the US circuit courts of appeal and sometimes, parties who are not satisfied by the ruling of the US district courts or the State courts (Federal Judiciary).

State courts on the other hand are found in individual States and usually provide jurisdictions over cases as per the constitutions of the States, with some cases being referred to the Federal courts. Most of the cases which are heard by State courts concern issues like family, traffic, and other issues which are not covered under the Federal judicial system. A typical State court is composed of the highest State court (sometimes known as Supreme Court), appellate courts, and trial courts (usually two types namely the courts for general jurisdictions and courts for limited jurisdictions.) The judges of State courts are elected and serve for a given number of years, which vary from State to State (Federal Judiciary).

The State of California judicial structure is more or less similar to the Federal court structure in that it’s composed of three main branches namely the trial courts, the court of appeal, and the Supreme Court. The trial courts are the ones that mostly provide original jurisdictions or hear a case for the first time. They address cases both of civil and criminal nature. In total, there are 58 trial courts which are spread all over the 58 counties in the State of California (Federal Judiciary).

The other branch, the courts of appeal comprises six appellate courts which are spread in six appellate districts created by the California legislature. The appellate courts mainly hear cases that emanate from the trial courts and make rulings on the same. They do not, therefore, collect fresh evidence or facts about the cases before them. The Supreme Court is the highest in the State and listens to cases from the appellate courts (Federal Judiciary).

One of the major judicial-related problems facing the State of California is the problem of illegal immigrants. While the Federal laws require all States to provide education and health care to all citizens, the States usually have challenges in providing these services because the taxes paid by the illegal immigrants are way below the cost of providing these services to them (Bowman and Kearney 71). The judicial system of California as it is today is ill-equipped to adequately deal with the problem. This is because the laws require the State to arrest, charge, and jail such people in Californian courts and prisons (Abraham 76).

For instance, illegal immigrants in California accounted for 23% of illegal immigrants in the US in 2009. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, as reported in the Los Angeles Newspaper, the illegal immigrants in California in 2009 accounted for 6.9% of the total population of the State, compared to Nevada with 6.8%, Texas with 6.5%, and Arizona 5.8% (Press- Telegram). According to Donald Huddle, both legal and illegal immigrants cost the State of California a tune of $18 billion between 1970 and 1992, and $42 billion for the entire US country in the same period. This is a huge cost to the State of California.

One way of dealing with this problem is through making judicial reforms, to ensure that all cases dealing with illegal immigrants are handled by the Federal government so that the Federal government could cover the incarceration costs, which happen to cost the California State a lot in terms of provision of services to the immigrants.

For instance, in terms of the incarceration of illegal immigrants, the taxpayers of California part with an estimate of $1.4 billion annually in covering the costs of keeping the offenders in prisons and jails. This amount is not inclusive of the financial costs associated with the crimes committed by these aliens and the judicial expenses on their cases (Federation of American Immigration Reform). Apart from saving Californian taxpayers’ money and decongesting the courts and jails of California, the reform would save time for the Californian courts.

Works Cited

Abraham, Henry. The judicial process: an introductory analysis of the courts of the United States, England, and France. 7th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.76.Print.

Anagnoson, Theodore., Bonetto, Gerald., and Buck, Vincent. Governing California in the Twenty-First Century. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Norton & Co Inc., 2010.189.Print.

Bowman, Ann., and Kearney, Richard. State and Local Government: The Essentials. 5th ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Cengage Learning, 2008.71.Print.

Federal Judiciary. Understanding Federal and State Courts. United States courts. Federal Judiciary, 2009. Web.

Federation of American Immigration Reform. The Costs of Illegal Immigration to Californians. FAIR. Federation for American Immigration Reform, 2004. Web.

Press- Telegram. Study: California leads U.S. in illegal immigrants. Los Angeles Newspaper group. Los Angeles Newspaper group. 2008. Web.