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Federal Case Materials Checklist: Introduction

This guide is intended to familiarize the user with the U.S. court structure, publication of federal decisions, and finding the text of federal cases. Primary sources are listed throughout this document, as well as some important Internet sites.
URL: http://libguides.law.ucla.edu/federalcasechecklist

Important Note About Access to Databases

Be sure to read the Access to Databases Guide carefully before beginning your research.

Useful Links

Overview of the Federal Court System



Source: BNA’s Directory of State and Federal Courts, Judges and Clerks (2009)

The Branches of the Federal Court System

Courts within the federal court system are commonly referred to as the “guardians of the Constitution.” The branches of the federal court system include: (1) the United States Supreme Court, (2) the United States Courts of Appeal, (3) the United States District Courts, (4) Bankruptcy Court, and (5) legislative or Article I courts, including the United States Court of Military Appeals, the United States Tax Court, and the United States Court of Veterans’ Appeals. The three main branches of the federal court system are described below. Additional information regarding the federal court system is available at http://www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts.aspx.

  1. United States Supreme Court

    The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. The United States Supreme Court consists of one Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices, all of whom are nominated by the President of the United States and then appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate.

    Pursuant to Article III of the United States Constitution, the United States Supreme Court hears cases dealing with the constitutionality of a law, cases involving the laws and treaties of the United States, cases involving ambassadors and public ministers, cases involving disputes between two or more states, and cases involving admiralty and bankruptcy law. Opinions of the United States Supreme Court are published in the United States Reports and are available in print (KF101 .A32) and online (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/opinions.aspx and in WestlawNext and LexisAdvance). Dockets of the Supreme Court of the United States may be searched at http://www.supremecourt.gov/docket/docket.aspx.
  1. United States Court of Appeals

     
    Source: U.S. Courts: The Federal Judiciary, http://www.uscourts.gov/court_locator.aspx

    As illustrated above, the United States Court of Appeals is organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has one United States Court of Appeals that hears appeals of decisions handed down in district courts located in its circuit, as well as appeals of decisions of federal administrative agencies. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals of specialized cases involving patent laws and those decided by the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims.

    Opinions of the United States Courts of Appeals are published in the Federal Reporter and are available in print (KF105 .F42) and online (in Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law). Dockets of the United States Courts of Appeal may be searched in Bloomberg Law (UCLA Law students, faculty, and staff only) or for a fee at PACER at http://www.pacer.gov/pcl.html. Readers may click on the circuit map above to navigate to the U.S. Court’s interactive Court Locator, which provides links and contact information for individual courts within the federal court system.
  1. United States District Courts

    The United States District Courts serve as the trial courts of the federal court system. Subject to limits set by Congress and the Constitution, federal district courts have jurisdiction to hear nearly all categories of federal cases, both civil and criminal. There are 94 federal judicial districts, including at least one judicial district in each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

    Selected opinions from district court cases are published in the Federal Supplement and are available in print (KF120 .F4) and online (in Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law). Dockets of the United States District Courts may be searched in Bloomberg Law (UCLA Law students, faculty, and staff only) or for a fee at PACER at http://pacer.psc.uscourts.gov/uspci.html. Readers may click on the circuit map above to navigate to the U.S. Court’s interactive Court Locator, which provides links and contact information for individual courts within the federal court system.

Court Home Pages for U.S. Courts Serving California

U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Bankruptcy

California Central District Court

California Eastern District Court

California Northern District Court

California Southern District Court

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