The United States court system is part of the judiciary branch, and is responsible for trying common law cases of both civil and criminal nature. There are two separate types of courts in this system – state and federal. State courts deal with criminal, injury, and family law, while federal courts handle cases of constitutional law, bankruptcy, inter-state disputes, and related issues.
Each state’s individual constitution establishes their State Supreme Court and all lower courts. In every state there are Municipal (or Local), Superior, and Appellate Courts, each of which handles specific types of cases. Municipal Courts are the lowest in each state, and they preside over misdemeanor hearings, traffic violations and legal disputes that involve small amounts of money. The next step up is a Superior Court, where felony cases, probate issues and lawsuits for large dollar amounts are handled. Many states also have other courts at this level that deal with very specific cases, such as family disputes and issues regarding the estate of a deceased individual. Above these are the Appellate Courts. Cases come here when they have been tried in a lower court, and the outcome is being contested. Finally, the highest court in each state is the State Supreme Court, which also hears appeals, although they have the right to refuse to hear any case brought before them.
Judges for State Courts are selected either by appointment or election. They have the power to make decisions on the laws of their state, interpret the Constitution and all federal laws, and sentence defendants who have been found guilty.
The Federal Court system originated from the United States Constitution, which called for the establishment of the U.S. Supreme Court and authorized Congress to establish lower courts. Aside from the Supreme Court, Congress created a network of District and Appellate Courts, as well as the Court of Claims, Court of International Trade and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. All federal cases start off in one of these settings, and may be transferred to a federal Court of Appeals if the outcome is disputed. When the appeal decision is also contested, the case may come before the Supreme Court, but they again have the power to accept or deny any case they receive. Federal judges must be nominated by the President and approved by the Senate. Their positions do not have term limits, and only come to an end when a judge retires or is impeached for inappropriate or criminal behavior.