Federal Court Definition

A term used to describe a judicial body that derives its authority from the U.S. Constitution or federal law. Federal courts can be divided into two types.

Article III Courts

Article III courts derive their power from Article III of the Constitution. There are two kinds of Article III courts.

  • Courts of original jurisdiction. A court of original jurisdiction is a court where a criminal or civil case usually starts. In most cases, the federal court of original jurisdiction is called the United States District Court. District courts are allowed to hear two kinds of cases:
    • federal question cases, involving a dispute under the federal Constitution or other federal laws, and
    • diversity cases, involving state law disputes between parties who are citizens of different states and where the amount in dispute exceeds $75,000.
  • Courts of appellate jurisdiction. A court of appellate jurisdiction means a court of appeals. In the federal court system, these courts include:
    • circuit courts of appeals, the courts where most appeals from district courts are taken, and
    • the United States Supreme Court, the court of last resort in the federal court system.

Other Courts

Congress has created other federal courts and given them limited authority to hear specific kinds of cases. For example, the United States Tax Court is authorized to hear and decide certain cases involving federal tax laws.