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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

U.S. Courts of Appeals (Circuit Courts)

What Are the U.S. Courts of Appeals?

The U.S. Courts of Appeals, also called federal circuit courts, hear cases that have been appealed from federal district courts, as well as appeals of decisions of federal agencies.

While the Supreme Court typically hears fewer than 100 cases a year, the federal courts below the Supreme Court decide tens of thousands of cases a year. In effect, many lower court rulings are the final word on our rights, making the selection of these judges "who are appointed for life" extremely important to all.

There are 13 judicial circuits, each of which contains a court of appeals. All except one are based on geographic regions of the country.

How Judges Are Selected

Federal judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Each circuit has between six and 28 judges, one of which is the chief judge for the circuit. The selection of the chief judge, who has administrative duties in addition to hearing cases, is based on seniority within that circuit

What Happens When a Case Is Heard?

Cases are usually heard by a panel of three judges. The chief judge assigns which judges hear each case, based on their workload and sometimes other factors.

Since the courts only review cases which are appealed from a lower court, there is no evidence presented, and no witnesses are heard. The judges reviews the records from the original trial, and also accept written arguments from the lawyers for each side. The arguments are called briefs, which is ironic since they can be hundreds of pages long.  Sometimes they hear oral arguments as well.

When they have decided the results of the case, they issue a formal document called an opinion.

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