The President's Corner
This month I am concluding my series entitled Civics 101. The hope has been to provide you with useful information about your local, state, and federal governments. So far I have covered our municipal (city), school district, and county governments, as well as Ohio’s state government and the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. This month I will write about our federal judicial branch – the federal courts.
According to Article III of the U.S. Constitution, “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” Thus, originally, there was only one federal court – the United States Supreme Court. Due to the overwhelming number of cases before that court, Congress soon began creating our lower or inferior court system. As a result, today there are 94 federal district courts and 13 circuit courts of appeals. All federal judges are nominated for appointment by the President and confirmed by a majority vote of the U.S. Senate. All federal judges serve for life on good behavior, as they can be impeached and removed like the President. The job of the courts is to interpret the law and settle disputes.
The district courts are courts of original jurisdiction, meaning that this is where most cases begin. They are also trial courts where trials are held. The closest to us is the U.S. District Court of Northern Ohio which is located downtown Cleveland. District courts hear both civil and criminal cases. Civil cases involve issues such as lawsuits and bankruptcies, while criminal cases involve someone who has been accused of a crime, such as possession of illegal narcotics. Each state has at least one district court. Ohio has two – one for the northern and another for the southern portion of the state. There are over 670 federal district judges throughout the nation.
The next level of federal courts are the circuit courts of appeals. Ohio is located within the jurisdiction of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also includes the states of Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is located in Cincinnati. When a case is appealed from a U.S. district court, it is sent to the circuit court within its jurisdiction. There a three-judge panel reviews the trial court record to determine if a mistake was made. The circuit court may overturn the lower court’s decision, affirm it, or modify it.
The highest court in the land is the U.S. Supreme Court located in Washington, D.C. It is currently made up of nine Justices. Currently, the court consists of a conservative majority which includes Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch. The liberal members include Associate Justices Sonya Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Cases are decided by a majority of the Justices. In fact, the decision of the Court is called the “majority decision.” If any members disagree with the majority, their opinion become what is called the “minority or dissenting opinion.”
Approximately, 9,000 cases every year seek appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court typically only selects about one-percent, or 90 cases, to hear each year. If the Supreme Court does not select a case, the lower court’s ruling stands. Further, the Supreme Court is the court of last resort, meaning that its decisions stand and become precedent or the law of the land. However, the Court can hear similar cases at a later time and decide to overturn precedent, as it did recently in the abortion case which overturned Roe V. Wade, the 1973 case protecting a woman’s right to choose.
Like all aspects of American Government, there is a lot more to know about the federal courts and their powers. I encourage you to read the U.S. Constitution and pick up a book about the courts. Best wishes to you as we move into the fall season.
Parma City Council President Sean Brennan