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 United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (in case citations, 10th Cir.) is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts for the following districts:

  • District of Colorado
  • District of Kansas
  • District of New Mexico
  • Eastern District of Oklahoma
  • Northern District of Oklahoma
  • Western District of Oklahoma
  • District of Utah
  • District of Wyoming

These districts were part of the Eighth Circuit until 1929. The court is composed of twelve active judges and is based at the Byron White U.S. Courthouse in Denver, Colorado.

Here are some landmark cases from the Tenth Circuit:

  • Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius (2013) – held that closely held corporations could assert religious objections to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.
  • United States v. Rodriquez (2006) – established that a suspect who is briefly detained and then released is still in “custody” for Miranda purposes and must be read their rights.
  • Kitchen v. Herbert (2014) – held that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
  • United States v. Montero-Camargo (2008) – clarified the standard for proving conspiracy under the federal drug laws.
  • United States v. Montoya de Hernandez (1985) – established the “border search” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, allowing law enforcement to search travelers at the border without a warrant.

These cases demonstrate the Tenth Circuit’s significance in addressing a variety of legal issues, including religious freedom, criminal procedure, and constitutional rights.