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The Judicial Branch

The judicial branch of government is made up of the Supreme Court of the United States, all lower and special federal courts, the Administrative Office of the Courts, Federal Judicial Center, and United States Sentencing Commission. The Supreme Court was created by Article III of the Constitution and is the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court is headed by the Chief Justice of the United States. The Chief Justice and the other eight associate justices who hear and decide cases are appointed by the President and confirmed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. In most cases, the Court has discretion to decide whether or not to accept a case for review. Only a small number of the thousands of appeals filed with the Supreme Court each year are accepted for review. When the Court decides a case, the justices issue a decision known as an "opinion".

The Chief Justice of the United States is John G. Roberts, Jr. Chief Justice Roberts was appointed to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush in 2005 after Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died. The eight Associate Justices are as follows:

Justice Year of Appointment Appointed By
Antonin Scalia
1986
President Reagan
Anthony Kennedy
1988
President Reagan
Clarence Thomas
1990
President Bush
Ruth Bader Ginsberg
1993
President Clinton
Steven Breyer
1994
President Clinton
Samuel Alito
2006
President Bush
Sonia Sotomayor
2009
President Obama
Elena Kagan
2010
President Obama

You can find more information about the Supreme Court and the individual justices here. (Use the "Back" button on your browser to return to this page.)

In addition to the Supreme Court, there are from one to four judicial districts in each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico for a total of 91 districts. Each judicial district has a United States District Court and is basically a trial court. If a party wishes to appeal a decision of the U.S. District Court, he or she goes to the appropriate United States Court of Appeals. An adverse decision from a court of appeals may be appealed to the Supreme Court. Both the U.S. District Courts and the U.S. Courts of Appeals are "such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish" under Article III of the Constitution. All federal judges are appointed for life. A map of the thirteen federal courts of appeals appears below.

Map of Federal Judicial Circuits



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