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Government Resources

Government information resources from the United States government and the State of California

Judicial Branch Resources

About the Judicial Branch

In contrast to the executive and legislative branches where leaders obtain their positions through an election, members of the judicial branch are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Article III of the United States Constitution established the Judicial Branch and left Congress the power to determine the structure of the federal judiciary. Congress has also established courts that are inferior to the Supreme Court, such as the district courts which try most federal cases. There are also 13 courts of appeal which review appealed district court cases.

Federal Courts possess the power to interpret the law, determine the constitutionality of the law, and then apply the law to individual cases. The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court and all inferior courts are constrained by the decisions of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court does not hear appeals as a matter of right; instead, parties must petition the Court for a writ of certiorari. The Court's practice is to “grant cert” if four of the nine Justices decide that they should hear the case. If the Court grants certiorari, Justices accept legal briefs from the parties to the case, as well as from amicus curiae, or “friends of the court.” Before issuing a ruling, the Supreme Court usually hears oral arguments. If the case involves the federal government, the Solicitor General of the United States presents arguments on behalf of the United States. The Justices then hold private conferences, make their decision, and issue the Court’s opinion along with any dissenting arguments that may have been written.