In the United States, most court systems are organized into hierarchies of courts. The lowest level of the court systems represents the trial courts. This is where most litigation occurs in both civil and criminal cases. The appellate courts, on the other hand, serve primarily to review the activities of the lower courts. These courts are not interested in matters of fact; they are interested in procedural errors and other matters of law.
Another important function of the appellate courts is the formulation of rules of conduct that help regulate our society. These rules are transmitted in the form of case law. These rules, established by the high courts, are very powerful in that the lower courts are bound (meaning not optional) to follow the precedent set forth. The higher the court, the more influential its decisions are. In constitutional matters, every court in the United States is bound to follow the precedents set forth by the United States Supreme Court. This means that the written opinions of the Supreme Court are very influential indeed. This impressive power and scope explain the emphasis on Supreme Court cases in many university law classes.
Last Modified: 07/30/2018