Fundamentals of Legal Research
Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.
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The Lower Federal Courts
Below the Supreme Court in the federal hierarchy are the intermediate appeals courts and the trial courts.
Congress was given the power to create lower federal courts in the constitution. There are now 13 United States Courts of Appeal. These are divided into the first through the Eleventh Circuit, and a Federal Circuit and a District of Columbia Circuit. Each of these circuit courts hears appeals from the trial courts in its respective circuit. The decisions of these appellate courts are binding on the lower trial courts within its circuit. The trial courts in the federal system are known as United States District Courts.
The federal appellate courts have select opinions published in a series of reporters known as Federal Reports. West began publishing Federal Reports in 1880. The original series reported cases from both the federal circuit courts (appellate courts) and the federal district courts (trial courts). It was not long before it was decided that this combined system was too unwieldy, and the federal district court decisions came to be reported in a separate series of reporters known as the Federal Supplement, which is cited as F. Supp. At the trial court level, very few cases result in a written opinion.
Federal Rules Decisions
West’s Federal Rules Decisions collects rules and decisions regarding the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure as well as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Federal Reporter is published by West, and so contains federal appellate decisions enhanced with the West Key Number Digest System. There is also a specific digest for these federal decisions.
The Federal Supplement reports the cases of the United States District (trial) Courts. Also, this series covers cases from the United States Court of International Trade and the decisions of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. This very large set is published by West. The digest associated with this series is the Federal Digest.
West also publishes numerous specialized reporters. These include the Bankruptcy Reporter and the Military Justice Reporter.
Modification History File Created: 08/08/2018 Last Modified: 06/13/2019
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