U.S. Circuit Courts | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Procedural Law

U.S. Circuit Courts is an old name for the United States Courts of Appeal; the courts of appeal are still organized into “circuits.”

The United States Courts of Appeals, commonly referred to as circuit courts, are intermediate appellate courts within the federal judicial system. There are currently 13 such courts, each covering a specific geographic area or circuit within the United States. These courts were created by Congress in 1891 to provide a level of appellate review between the district courts and the Supreme Court.

Each is composed of a panel of judges, typically three, who are responsible for reviewing decisions made by the district courts within their circuit. The circuit courts hear appeals in both civil and criminal cases, and their decisions are binding on the district courts within their jurisdiction. In criminal cases, defendants who have been convicted in district court may appeal their conviction to the appropriate court, which will review the lower court’s decision for errors of law or fact.

The circuit courts also have the power to review decisions made by federal administrative agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Federal Communications Commission, to determine if they are consistent with the law. This power of review is known as administrative law.

In addition to hearing appeals, the circuit courts are also responsible for handling certain types of original jurisdiction cases. For example, if there is a dispute between two states or if a case involves a foreign diplomat, the circuit court has original jurisdiction to hear the case.

The judges on these courts are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. They serve for life, subject to impeachment and removal by Congress. Circuit judges are typically experienced attorneys or judges who have demonstrated a high level of legal expertise and knowledge.

Overall, these courts play a crucial role in the federal judicial system, ensuring that the district courts and administrative agencies are following the law and that the rights of all parties involved are being protected. Their decisions impact not only the parties involved in a particular case but also the legal landscape as a whole, setting precedent for future cases and shaping the interpretation of federal law.

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Last Modified: 04/07/2023


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