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Federal and State Courts: Structure and Interaction

CRS Report – Federal and State Courts: Structure and Interaction, August 2, 2023: “In the United States, the federal government and the states each have their own set of laws and their own court systems. Federal and state courts vary in structure, with significant differences between the federal and state judiciaries as well as variation among the different states. Federal and state courts generally operate separately, but there is not an absolute division between the federal and state judicial systems. Sometimes, state courts decide questions of state law and federal courts decide questions of federal law. However, state courts can also hear many types of federal law claims, and there are circumstances in which federal courts apply state law. Federal courts can also review state court decisions that may conflict with the U.S. Constitution or federal law. In addition, cases or legal issues can move between the two judicial systems. This report provides an overview of the different structures and functions of federal and state courts and the relationship between the two judicial systems. The report first provides an overview of the federal judiciary. The federal judicial system includes courts established under Article III of the Constitution, with judges who are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. Judges appointed to these courts hold office “during good Behaviour” (which has been interpreted to grant them tenure for life unless they resign or are impeached and removed) and are also protected from having their salaries diminished while in office. The federal judicial system also includes other tribunals, sometimes called Article I
courts or legislative courts, whose judges do not have the same constitutional protections as Article III judges. The Constitution limits the matters Article I courts can decide, but these courts can hear cases in territorial courts and military courts, “public rights” cases involving disputes between private actors and the government, and cases where decisionmakers serve as “adjuncts” to Article III courts. This report also surveys key features of state court systems, highlighting general trends and differences between the state and
federal judicial systems…”

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