The United States federal court system is a hierarchical structure consisting of three levels: the district courts, the courts of appeals, and the Supreme Court. District courts are trial-level courts who have jurisdiction over a wide range of federal cases, including criminal cases, civil cases involving federal law, and cases involving federal agencies. The courts of appeals are intermediate appellate courts, who hear appeals from the district courts and other federal agencies within their geographic jurisdiction. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States, and has the final say on all cases involving federal law and the United States Constitution.
The federal court system was established by the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to create and regulate federal courts. Our first federal courts were created by the Judiciary Act of 1789, which only established district courts and the Supreme Court. The Act also created the Office of the Attorney General and provided for the appointment of federal judges by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate.
Over time, the federal court system has evolved and expanded to meet our country’s changing needs. The number of federal district courts and judges has increased while new courts of appeals have been established.
The Fifth Circuit (in case citations, “5th Cir.”) has appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following federal judicial districts:
- Eastern District of Louisiana
- Middle District of Louisiana
- Western District of Louisiana
- Northern District of Mississippi
- Southern District of Mississippi
- Eastern District of Texas
- Northern District of Texas
- Southern District of Texas
- Western District of Texas
It is headquartered in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Fifth Circuit played a role in the Civil Rights Movement, hearing many noteworthy cases. A 1964 Time Magazine article on the Fifth Circuit entitled, “The Fascinating & Frenetic Fifth,” said this about the court:
“Apart from the Supreme Court, the most fascinating bench in the U.S. is the Deep South’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals—the trail-blazing intermediate court that handles most of the nation’s civil rights cases by hearing appeals from district courts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. ‘Without the Fifth Circuit, we would be on the verge of actual war fare in the South.’”
The court continues to play a key role in shaping the law in the southwestern United States and beyond.