US Court of Appeals


The US Court of Appeals represents the second court level in the US judicial system. The district courts are the first, and the Supreme Court is the third and highest level of the court system.

The judicial system divides the United States into 94 judicial districts, which are then organized geographically into 12 circuits. Each district is assigned a district court, and each of the 12 regions has a Court of Appeals that is  responsible for hearing appealed cases from each of the district courts in its region. Although the Court of Appeals is the second level court, it is still considered a high level court not simply because it has the ability to hear appeals on decisions handed down by lower level district courts, but because it often hears cases that have been appealed to the Supreme Court, which  receives 4,000 to 5,000 cases each year, but is only able hear 100 to 200 cases.  This leaves  the remaining cases that were not selected to be reviewed by the Supreme Court to be sent back down to a Court of Appeals. As such, the Court of Appeals has the power to establish legal precedents over many US laws as well as overturn state laws. In addition to the above, the Courts of Appeals also hold the power to review specialized cases such as those that deal with patent law, Federal claims, and Court of International Trade.

Although there are tribunal courts that hear appealed cases, officially there are only 13 Courts of Appeals. This includes a Court for each of the 12 districts as well as a 13th court, which has jurisdiction over all the Courts of Appeals, and reviews select appealed cases — usually ones on surrounding sensitive topics. The tribunal courts, however, hear specialized appealed cases. The United States Court of Appeals, for example, hears cases appealed from the Department of Veteran Affairs, and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces hears court-martial cases, while the D.C. Circuit Court ( District of Columbia), on the other hand, mainly hears cases about special matters such as patents and cases from the United States Court of International Trade and the United States Court of Federal Claims.  

Court of Appeals decisions are published by West Publishing, a private publishing company, since the courts were first established.  “Unpublished “ opinions are sometimes posted in the West’s Federal Appendix and are also available on the online database Westlaw, LexisNexis, or the specific circuit court’s official website.  (Some rulings, however, are classified for national security reasons and are not published at all.)

Court of Appeals judges are nominated by the President of the United States, and if confirmed by the US Senate, are granted tenure and can serve on the court for the remainder of their lives. Currently, there are 179  judges on the US Court of Appeals. The First Circuit  has the least number of judges, while the Ninth has the most. Confirmed judges are expected to earn approximately $184,500 a year.

U.S Courts of Appeals

Additional Resources