This article is written by Monesh Mehndiratta, a law student at Graphic Era Hill University, Dehradun. It provides an overview of the judicial department in the United States and its composition, powers, and jurisdiction. It further describes the hierarchy of courts in the United States. 

It has been published by Rachit Garg.

Table of Contents


The judiciary acts as one of the most important pillars of any democracy. It not only helps in the adjudication of cases and disputes but also acts as a defender of the constitution of any country. The judiciary upholds law and order in society, decides whether the enforced laws have been complied with, and punishes the wrongdoer or anyone who violates the law. Besides, it also ensures that the existing laws are in accordance with the requirements of society. For this, they are empowered to make guidelines, direct the legislature to enact laws on a particular issue, etc. The powers, functions, and jurisdictions of every court in a judicial department differ from country to country. 

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The article provides an insight into the judicial department of the United States of America, also known as the US Department of Justice (DOJ), which is responsible for interpreting the laws of the United States and administering justice. It further discusses the different types of courts in the judicial department in the US, their terms and hierarchy, compensation, jurisdiction, treason, the cases they handle, their powers, and the role of the US Supreme Court.

Constitution of the US and its judicial department

Courts and the judicial department together form an essential part of all organized societies. Initially, the Articles of Confederation did not provide any provision for a federal judiciary. The task of creating the judicial department was given to the states. However, the need to formulate a judicial department was felt during the Philadelphia Convention. This need was further taken into consideration, and thus, the judicial department was created to deal with various kinds of disputes in the country.  

Article III of the US Constitution 

To fulfill the purpose and requirement of a department which could smoothly resolve any kind of dispute between citizens, or citizens and states, or between two different states or state and federal government and to maintain peace and order in society by awarding suitable punishment to the offenders and criminals, Article III of the Constitution of the US provides for a judicial branch. It establishes a court system with the Supreme Court at its top and other inferior courts. However, it does not provide the structure of inferior courts but gives power to the Congress to establish such courts.   

Vesting Clause 

According to Section 1 of Article III, the Constitution vests judicial power in the Supreme Court and other inferior courts that are established and ordained by the Congress. These inferior and subordinate courts will be established by Congress as per the requirement. It further provides that the judges of such courts will hold office during periods of good behavior and receive salaries and compensation until they hold office. 


Section 2 of Article III provides that this judicial power can be exercised in all the cases arising under the US Constitution, any other statutes in the country, laws enacted by states, and the treaties. The dispute may involve the following:

  • Public ministers, consuls and the ambassadors; 
  • Cases related to admiralty or maritime;
  • Any controversy arising between two or more states; 
  • Cases in which the United States is one of the party; 
  • Dispute between a state and citizens of different states;
  • Disputes between citizens of different states or same states;
  • Disputes related to claim of land under grants of different states and between a state or citizens and foreign states citizens or subjects. 

However, in cases that involve ambassadors or public ministers, the Supreme Court will have original jurisdiction, while in other cases it will have appellate jurisdiction. It further provides that the trials in criminal cases will be done by jury in the state where the crime has been committed. If the crime was not committed in any state, the place of trial will be decided by Congress. 


The judicial department in the US has jurisdiction over cases involving treason. Treason is defined as the crime of betraying one’s country or attempting to overthrow the government. The US Constitution, under Section 3 of Article III, defines treason as waging war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies. 

In the case of Ex parte Bollman (1807), Justice Marshall defined “levying war” as waging war or attempting to do so against the government of the country. He also explained that to constitute an offense of levying war, there must be an assembly of people with such an intention, and every person involved in the assembly, whether actively or passively, will be punished for the same and treated as a traitor.  A conviction for treason carries a maximum penalty of death.

The authority to hear cases involving treason vests with the Supreme Court. In order to convict a person accused of treason, it is necessary to present at least two witnesses against him in court. The Supreme Court has issued numerous decisions on cases involving treason, including the famous Rosenberg v. US (1953) case, in which Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of espionage under the Espionage Act of 1917 for betraying the government by revealing atomic secrets and other important military information to the foreign government in times of war. So, they were convicted and awarded the death penalty in 1953. 

Judiciary Act of 1789

The discretion to decide the structure of the judiciary was given to the Congress. In lieu of this, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was passed by the Congress, which also established a federal hierarchy of courts. The Act established a three-tiered court structure for the federal judiciary, as well as their jurisdiction. The structure is as follows:

  • Supreme Court: According to the Act of 1789, the Supreme Court in the US consisted of one Chief Justice and five other associate judges but as of now it consists of one Chief Justice and eight other associate judges. It was empowered by the Act to hear appeals in cases involving questions of constitutionality of federal laws or state laws. 
  • Circuit Court: These courts acted as the trial courts of the federal judiciary and presided by two judges of the Supreme Court and one judge from the district court. It was given limited appellate jurisdiction apart from general jurisdiction to hear appeals in cases involving parties from different states. 
  • District Court: According to the Act, each state had one district court which was presided by one judge and had jurisdiction to try admiralty and maritime cases. 

However, Section 13 of the Act was held unconstitutional by Justice Marshall while dealing with the case of Marbury v. Madison (1803) and established the power of judicial review. While dealing with the issue of whether the Supreme Court can issue the writ of mandamus, as was sought in the case, it was stated that Section 13 was inconsistent with Section 2 of Article III. 

Concept of judicial review

The origin of judicial review in the US lies in the case of Marbury v. Madison (1803), in which William Marbury asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus that compels Madison to deliver the commission because he did not receive it before Thomas Jefferson became the President, and it was alleged that Jefferson also told James Madison, who was the Secretary of State, not to do so. Justice Marshall made the following observations in this case:

  • The Constitution is a written document defining the powers of the government along with their limitations. 
  • It is the fundamental law of law which is superior to any other ordinary legislation. 
  • Any act, statute, or legislation that is in conflict with or contrary to the fundamental law is void. 

On the basis of these observations in the judgment, the power of judicial review was firmly embodied in the US judicial system.

The power of the judiciary to determine whether a law enacted by the Congress, any state law, any provision of the constitution of a state, or any regulation, rule, order, etc. are in consonance with the constitution is known as judicial review. Simply, it means to determine the constitutionality of any statute or any provision in the law. If the statute in question is unconstitutional, the court refuses to give effect to it. 

The citizens have been empowered to challenge the constitutionality of any act or statute if they think that the legislature has exceeded its power in the enactment of that particular legislation. While deciding its constitutionality, the court has to interpret the constitution and observe whether the disputed act or statute violates the provisions of the constitution. This power of interpreting the constitution while determining the constitutionality of challenged legislation is known as judicial review. Judicial review refers to the power to determine the constitutionality of challenged legislation by interpreting the constitution. 

This principle of judicial review has been recognized implicitly under Article III of the US Constitution. The US Supreme Court has the power of judicial review. This means that the Supreme Court can determine the constitutionality of or review the constitutions of states, treaties made by the federal government, orders, rules, regulations, etc. It restores the confidence of people in the Supreme Court and, ultimately, in the judiciary. 

Overview of the judicial department in the US

The judicial department in the United States is one of three branches of the federal government. The other two branches of government are the legislative and executive branches. The judicial branch has the Supreme Court at its apex, which is the highest court in the United States. It makes the final decision in cases that have been appealed from lower courts.

The judicial department in the US consists of federal courts and state courts. The courts that have been established under the US Constitution are called federal courts, while state courts are established according to the laws of each state and exercise jurisdiction accordingly. There are two kinds of courts at the federal and state levels. These are the trial courts that try different cases according to their jurisdiction and the appellate courts that hear appeals from the trial courts. 

The federal court system consists of the Supreme Court, Circuit Courts of Appeals, District Courts, and Specialty Courts. Apart from these courts, there are other courts like Article I courts, Bankruptcy Courts and Bankruptcy Appellate Panels, which have been dealt with later in the article. Each court is responsible for handling different types of legal cases and appeals. 

The judicial department in the US also includes the US Marshals Service, which has responsibility for  maintaining order in the court system at the federal level, and the Federal Public Defender System, which provides legal representation to individuals who cannot afford to hire their own attorney. The Legal Services Corporation also provides legal assistance to low-income people. 

Different types of Judges in the US

The judicial department in the US is made up of several different types of judges in federal and state courts who preside over different types of courts. 

Comparison between federal and state courts

The federal courts are an outcome of Article III of the US Constitution, wherein judicial power lies with one Supreme Court and other inferior courts at the federal level. The inferior courts are established by Congress as and when required. On the other hand, the state courts are the result of the laws and constitutions of each state. The court system in states usually consists of one Supreme Court, i.e., the Court of Last Resort, which is the highest court of the state, Intermediate Courts of Appeals, also known as intermediate appellate courts, and trial courts. 

Federal courts are empowered to deal with matters like the constitutionality of laws, disputes arising out of treaties, disputes between citizens or citizens and states or between two states, and disputes involving public ministers and ambassadors. Whereas state courts have special courts that deal with specific matters, like family courts that deal with family matters, probate courts that deal with probate matters, and juvenile courts that hear cases involving juveniles. 

In the court system at federal level, an appeal from the decision of the district court lies to the Courts of Appeals, while in state courts, it is made to the Intermediate Courts of Appeals. The Supreme Court of the US can also review the decision of the Courts of Appeals on the request of a party to dispute. This is however, subject to discretion of the court. On the other hand, the highest court at the state level i.e., the state Supreme Court, can hear cases on the request of parties. 

In cases that involve the US Constitution and federal laws, the US Supreme Court is considered as the final arbiter while where a case involves state laws and constitutions, the state Supreme Court is the final arbiter. However, an appeal can be made to the US Supreme Court in cases where the federal law has been interpreted by the state Supreme Court. 

Judges of federal courts

The following are different types of judges in federal courts:

Supreme Court judges

This court consists of a Chief Justice and eight Associate judges, appointed by the President upon confirmation by the Senate. The Chief Justice is the head of the Supreme Court and is also responsible for interpreting laws of the country. 

Courts of Appeals judges

The Circuit Court of Appeals is made up of judges nominated by the President and are appointed once they are confirmed by the Senate. The Court also consists of a panel of three judges responsible for hearing appeals from the district courts and federal administrative agencies.  

District court judges

The judges of a district court are responsible for hearing cases of both criminal and civil matters in a district. There are a total of 94 district courts across the country. These judges are appointed by the President after the names have been confirmed by the Senate. The judges are also responsible for issuing rulings on the facts and laws of a case. 

Senior judges

All the judges who have reached the age of 65 years and have served the post of judge for at least 15 years are known as senior judges. They are given an option to choose less number of cases in order to reduce their burden. 

Speciality courts judges

The specialty courts are made up of judges who have been appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. These judges preside over specialized cases such as copyright infringement, bankruptcy, and tax fraud.

Other judges

These include:

  • Magistrate judges: The magistrate judges are appointed by a district court to handle any judicial proceedings and have been given power to issue warrants, hear cases of petty offenses, conduct preliminary proceedings etc. In order to get selected, they must meet the eligibility criteria and based on the majority of votes of district judges they are appointed for a term of eight years which can be renewed. 
  • Bankruptcy judges: All the judges that sit in Bankruptcy courts and deal with matters related to bankruptcy are known as bankruptcy judges. They are appointed by the US Courts of Appeals for a renewable term of 14 years. 
  • Recalled judges: Magistrate judges and bankruptcy judges can be recalled after their retirement to deal with a particular case and called recalled judges. These judges exercise those powers that they had during their tenure as active judges. The need for such judges is determined by Circuit Judicial Councils
  • Visiting judges: These are some special judges who are approved by circuit chief judges to provide assistance in any federal court as per the need and requirement. 

State courts judges

The different types of judges in state courts are as follows:

  • Municipal court judges who preside over municipal proceedings in a city.
  • Specialty judges who preside over small claims courts. 
  • Intermediate state court trial judges who conduct special trials of limited jurisdiction.
  • Superior court judges presiding over trial courts having general jurisdiction. 
  • State appellate courts judges. 
  • State Supreme Court judges. 
  • State administrative judges. 

Terms of judges in the US

The terms of judges in the US are set by the Constitution under Article III. Generally, the judges of the Supreme Court and the lower courts hold office during good behavior, but different courts can have different terms. 

  • The Supreme Court Justices serve lifetime appointments. This means they are appointed for life and there is no fixed term for the judges. However, they can be removed by way of impeachment on the grounds of proven misbehavior or incapacity. 
  • The Circuit Court of Appeals and District Court Judges serve terms of eight years, and the Specialty Court Judges serve terms of four years. 
  • Magistrate judges are appointed for a term of eight years while bankruptcy courts judges are appointed for 14 years. Both the judges can renew their terms. 
  • Recalled judges are called for service for a period not exceeding three years but can be renewed. 

Appointment of judges in the US

Federal court

Generally, the President has the power to appoint judges to the Supreme Court, Circuit Courts of Appeals, and District Courts. However, the Senate must confirm these appointments. He can also appoint judges to the specialty courts, but these appointments do not require confirmation from the Senate. But in the case of other judges, like magistrate judges, bankruptcy judges, etc., the process of appointment is different. This is given below:

  • Magistrate judges are appointed by a district court and to be appointed they must fulfill the criteria and then on the votes of district judges, they are selected and appointed. 
  • Bankruptcy judges are appointed by the judges of the Courts of Appeals with the help of Circuit Council

State courts

Each state can use different guidelines for the selection of judges but there are some main methods by which judges in state courts are appointed: 

  • Elections, 
  • Assisted appointment, 
  • Direct appointment, 


The various kinds of election methods in the United States that are used in the selection of judges are as follows:

  • Partisan elections: In this method of elections, judges are listed on a  ballot along with their political affiliations. The difference lies in the manner of elections that are conducted from state to state. For example, in Louisiana, the candidates first compete in primary elections; if no one gets 50% votes, the two candidates getting highest votes are selected for general elections. In New York, voters elect party delegates who choose candidates for general election. 
  • Non-partisan elections: In this method, judges are listed on a ballot but there are no indications of their political affiliations. States like Kentuchy, Montana, Oregon etc., use this method for selection of judges at state Supreme Court level. However, the manner of elections differ in each state. For example, in Arkansas, all the candidates participate in primary elections. If a candidate receives more than 50% votes, he/she is selected; otherwise, the top two candidates participate in general elections. While in Kentucky, if no candidate can win primary elections, the top two candidates participate in general elections. 
  • Michigan method: This type of selection method is used in Michigan. It is a combination of partisan and nonpartisan election methods. 
  • Retention method: This method is used for retaining a judge in a court. Voters are asked whether a particular judge must be retained and allowed to continue his tenure again in any particular court. This method is usually used in combination with other methods like, assisted appointment in combination with retention method or partisan/non-partisan elections with retention method. States like Alaska, Maryland, Utah etc., use this method at the state supreme court level while Florida, Idaho, Colorado etc., use it for selection of judges in Intermediate appellate courts. 

Assisted appointment 

In this method, candidates are appointed by the governor of the state from a list of candidates submitted by a board or commission. This method is also known as the merit selection method or the Missouri plan. 

The commission usually consists of lawyers or other people chosen by the executive branch of state. A list of qualified candidates is shared with the governor, who makes the final selection. This method is further classified into three types based on the type of commission used to select candidates for the state Supreme Court. 

  • Governor-controlled commission: Governor is given the responsibility to choose the majority of members for the commission who makes the nomination. 
  • Bar-controlled commission: The members of the commission are chosen by the state bar association. 
  • Hybrid commission: The members of the commission are chosen with the help of different rules in each state. 

States like the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Vermont, etc., use this method for the selection of judges. 

Direct appointment 

Direct appointments for judges in the courts can be made in two ways. These are:

  • Legislative elections: Judges are appointed by the state legislatures and the governor or the citizens have no role to play. However, the candidates are screened by the nominating commission before the appointment. For example, in South Carolina, the Judicial Merit Selection Commission shortlists the candidates through interview and then submits the names to the general assembly for final appointment. South Carolina and Virginia use this method for the appointment of judges in courts. 
  • Gubernatorial appointment: In this method, judges are directly appointed by the governor without any help or nomination from the selection committee. However, the names must be confirmed by some authority in the state. For example, in California, names of candidates selected by the governor must be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. States like Maine, California, New Jersey, New Hampshire etc., also use this method for the selection and appointment of judges. 

Compensation of Judges in the US

The compensation of judges in the US is set by Congress, which can be increased but cannot be decreased, and the concept of compensation is given under Section 1 of Article III of the US Constitution. According to the framers of the Constitution, paying compensation to the judges can help achieve the independence of the judiciary, where judges are under no obligation to give judgment under any pressure. 

According to a 2022 report on judicial compensation in the US: 

  • The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court receives an annual salary of $298,500, while the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court receive an annual salary of $285,400. 
  • The Circuit Court of Appeals and District Court Judges receive an annual salary of $246,600 and $232,600 respectively. 

Jurisdiction of the judicial department in the US

The Supreme Court and inferior courts have jurisdiction under Article III, Section 2 of the US Constitution. It also mentions the cases in which the Supreme Court will have different kinds of jurisdiction. 

  • The Supreme Court has the ultimate authority to interpret the laws of the United States and make decisions on cases that have been appealed from lower courts. It has original and appellate jurisdiction and is also known as a court of review.
  • The Circuit Courts of Appeals and District Courts have the authority to hear cases that have been appealed from lower courts, as well as cases involving federal law. 
  • The Specialty Courts have the authority to hear cases involving specialized areas of law, such as copyright infringement, bankruptcy, and tax fraud.

Hierarchy of courts in US 

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court in the US lies at the top of the hierarchy of federal courts. Its establishment is provided by the Constitution under Article III and has two different kinds of jurisdictions. It is not only the guardian but also the arbiter of the Constitution. 

Appointment and tenure of judges

The judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President on the advice and consent of the Senate. Since the Constitution of the United States provides no qualification obligation for the judges, the President is free to appoint any person who is approved by the Senate. Though people with high prestige and ability are selected to be judges, they hold office for good behavior and can only be removed by the process of impeachment. However, judges may take early retirement at the age of seventy with their full salary if they have served the position for ten years. This means that the judges are appointed for life. 

The Supreme Court holds its first sessions on the first Monday in the month of October and continues until June or the first week of July. The term is divided into two parts. 

  • In sitting, they hear cases and deliver their opinions. 
  • In intervening recess, they write their opinions on the basis of arguments presented before them.   

Public sessions are conducted in the morning from 10 a.m. until they are concluded at noon. Occasional afternoon sessions are also scheduled if required. Such sessions are not conducted on Thursday and Friday. The discussions on the case are done on Friday, when they also vote on reviewing the petitions. Each week, the judges must evaluate approximately 130 petitions seeking to review federal and state court decisions. 


According to Section 2 of Article III of the US Constitution, the Supreme Court has both original and appellate jurisdiction. 

The original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court depends on the kinds of parties to a case. It is limited to:

  • In cases where diplomats and other public ministers are involved,
  • cases in which a state is one of the parties. 

Generally, the original jurisdiction lies in cases that involve questions of law or constitutionality 

On the other hand, the appeal lies to the Supreme Court in the following matters:

  • Where the highest court has held the state law as invalid or where it is alleged to be violating federal law. 
  • Where a federal law or a treaty has been held invalid.
  • Cases involving the review of decisions of the court of claims and the courts of customs and patent appeals. 
  • The Supreme Court also has the jurisdiction to review the decisions of a state court. 

Roles of Supreme Court

The Supreme Court in the US has the following powers and functions:

Protector of Federation 

In a federation, the powers are divided between the federal government, or the central government, and the states. This usually leads to disputes due to separation of powers, division, interference, etc. These are decided by the Supreme Court, and so it is called the “protector of the federation.” In the US, it is believed that the liberal interpretation by the Supreme Court has been the reason for the successful incorporation of federalism in the country and that it has been able to fulfill the requirements of the citizens till date. 

Savior of the Constitution

The Supreme Court of the US has the power to declare any law passed by the legislature null and void. It has been vested with the power of judicial review as well, which has helped keep a check on the powers of the President and the Congress. Thus, it can be said that it is the savior of the US Constitution.

Guardian of the Rights

The Constitution of the United States gives certain natural and fundamental rights to its citizens. The power to protect these rights from violation and interference is vested with the Supreme Court. The Court can issue writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari, and an order of injunction in this regard. It prevents encroachments on human rights by keeping the authorities within their limited roles and functions. It has also been vested with the power to declare any law unconstitutional based on due process. Over the years, the Supreme Court has acted as a guardian of rights and will continue to protect these rights. 

Development of the constitution

The court has also worked towards the development of the US Constitution. Initially, there were 13 states in the federation, but now it consists of 51 states, which means that the Constitution had to be changed accordingly to meet the needs and requirements of people and society. The Court, with its liberal interpretation, has helped to adopt necessary changes as the amendment procedure of the Constitution is rigid, which means that it cannot be amended easily. However, with the help of the Supreme Court, necessary changes have been adopted.  

Highest court of appeal

The Supreme Court in the US functions as the highest court of appeal. Its decision is final, and there is no authority to appeal it. It deals with appeals from high courts in states and lower federal courts. It can be called the autocratic political institution of the country because it is immune from the veto power of the President, and the overriding power of the Congress. 

Inferior Federal Courts

According to the hierarchy of courts in the US, the Supreme Court is at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the federal courts of appeals, which were created in 1891 for the disposal of cases and to reduce the burden of the Supreme Court. Then comes the lower courts, consisting of district courts and other special courts like customs courts, territorial courts, tax courts, etc. 

Federal Courts of Appeal

These courts are also known as Circuit Courts of Appeal and consist of three to six judges. The conference of the senior federal court judges from various circuits is presided over by the Chief Justice. The purpose of the conference is to conduct a survey of the work of the federal judiciary and make necessary recommendations. It also creates a sense of unity among the judges. 

The judges of the federal courts are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. They serve the term during good behavior and have been given the privilege of retirement with full pay at the age of seventy years. The main function of these courts is to hear cases or appeals from the lower courts. If there is no question of unconstitutionality, the decision of the federal court is final. However, if a state law has been declared unconstitutional, it can be appealed to the Supreme Court. 

District courts

These courts have original jurisdiction and are constituted in every district. The judges in district court are appointed by the President for life. However, they can be impeached due to misbehavior. The only requirement for the judges is that they must be residents of the districts for which they are appointed. 

The district courts are vested with original jurisdiction and do not take any cases on appeal. It is the only court where a jury is used. The appeal from the decision of the district courts lies with the federal courts of appeal. In some cases, it may be directly appealed to the Supreme Court. 

Special federal courts

The above-mentioned courts are categorized as constitutional courts, as they have been established according to Article III of the US Constitution to exercise and formulate the judicial department in the country. There are some other courts as well, in addition to these, that have been termed “special courts” because they serve a special purpose. They are created by the Congress under special legislative powers given under Article II of the Constitution. The following are the special courts:

Customs court

The Customs Court was established in 1890 and consists of 9 judges who are appointed by the President for life on the advice and consent of the Senate. They serve the tenure during good behavior but can be impeached. The office of the court is located in New York, though its sessions are mostly conducted in other cities. This court deals with cases involving issues of valuation and duties under the tariff. 

Territorial courts

These have been established by Congress in the American territories and have jurisdiction to hear cases assigned to them directly or indirectly by the territorial government.  

Tax Court

This court was established in 1942. It decides cases involving disputes that arise from decisions of the federal agencies that collect taxes. As the name suggests, it deals with tax-related matters and disputes related to tax. 

Court of Military Appeals

The Court of Military Appeals was established in 1950 and consists of civilian judges that are appointed by the President with the approval of the Senate. It is an appellate court and decides appeals arising from the decisions of court martials. However, it has no original jurisdiction. 

Article I Courts

These are certain legislative courts that are created by the Congress and do not have complete judicial power. They cannot hear cases involving constitutional law or issues of habeas corpus. The following courts fall under the ambit of these courts:

  • US Courts of Appeals for veteran claims;
  • US Courts of Appeals for Armed Forces;
  • US Tax Courts.

Bankruptcy Courts

These courts deal with bankruptcy cases and are part of the federal courts. No case related to bankruptcy can be filed in the state courts. Parties, in such cases, either seek liquidation of their assets or reorganization of their affairs in order to pay their debts. 

Bankruptcy Appellate Panel

This panel hears appeals from the judgments of bankruptcy courts. The panel is a unit of the federal Courts of Appeals and must be established by that circuit. It is composed of three judges. 

Authorities within judicial administration

In the judicial department of the US, apart from the different courts that hear and try cases depending upon their jurisdiction, there are other authorities as well. These authorities work towards the smooth administration of the judicial department. These are:

  • Administrative Office;
  • Federal judicial center;
  • A judicial panel on the multidistrict litigation;
  • Sentencing Commission.

Administrative office of the US courts

It is a kind of agency in the department that provides various services to the federal courts, like management, legal, financial, technical support, etc. It also makes the budget for the judiciary every year and gives it to the Congress for approval. It also has the responsibility to carry out policies made in judicial conferences. Another duty is to provide staff and counsel to the judicial committee in the conferences for its smooth conduct and functioning. 

Federal judicial center

The center provides facilities for training and research for the judiciary and was established by Congress in 1967. It also creates various programs of education for the judges and counsels in order to develop their skills and knowledge. It is the duty of the center to make recommendations to the department about any necessary improvements or changes for its smooth administration. 

Judicial panel on multidistrict litigation

The office of the panel is located in Washington and consists of seven appellate courts and district courts selected by the Chief Justice. The panel has the power to transfer a case to one district court when similar issues involved in numerous cases arise in different district courts.  

United States Sentencing Commission 

The United States Sentencing Commission is a bipartisan independent agency established by Congress in 1984 to develop sentencing guidelines for criminals. It collects, analyzes, and provides information regarding the sentencing process in the country and develops methods for the same. It consists of a chairman, three vice chairs, and three commissioners who are appointed by the President for a term of six years. 


The judiciary of any country is empowered to adjudicate and solve disputes between parties by applying the enacted law and correctly interpreting it. It may also establish precedents and provide guidelines on a specific issue to fill gaps in the law or where no law has been enacted. In the United States of America, this power vests with the Supreme Court and other lower courts. The courts are divided at the federal and state levels. All the courts of both levels have been explained in the article extensively. The judicial department in the US also consists of various other authorities, like the federal judicial center and the sentencing commission, etc., that ensure its smooth functioning and administration. 

The Supreme Court holds its sessions regularly, and all its decisions are published in the United States Report. However, it does not render any advice to the President on any constitutional matters. It has also refused to advise the executive on any such questions and does not deal with cases involving political questions. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does the Constitution of the US provide any structure for the judiciary?

No, the Constitution does not provide any structure for the organization of the judiciary. It only provides that the judicial power vests with the Supreme Court and other lower courts. The federal courts in the country have been established by Congress. 

Does the Supreme Court in the US have advisory jurisdiction?

The Supreme Court in the US does not render any advice to the President on any constitutional matters, unlike the Indian Supreme Court, which gives advice to the President on certain matters of law, though the advice is not binding. Thus, it lacks advisory jurisdiction. 

How many district courts are there in the United States?

There are a total of 94 district courts in the US. These courts are also established in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Some states, like Alaska, consist of a single judicial district, while others consist of a multi-judicial district. 


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