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How cases reach the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court decides about 150 cases a year. The chart below shows the basic structure of the U.S. court system, and the ways in which cases reach the Supreme Court. It also explains the Court's jurisdiction (area over which an individual or group has legal authority), and the roles of lower federal and state courts. Study the chart, then answer the questions below.


Original jurisdiction: The Court must hear eases that may set a precedent (ruling that can later be used to justify a similar case), and other legal disputes that involve a state or the federal government.

Appellate jurisdiction: The Court must hear appeals that seek to declare a federal or state law unconstitutional. The Supreme Court can accept or reject other cases from lower federal or state courts. The Supreme Court accepts cases only if four or more Justices agree to grant a writ of certiorari.

State Supreme Court

The highest court in most states; reviews state appellate court rulings.

State Appellate Courts

Review cases (and appeals) from state trial courts.

State Trial Courts

Try the state's civil and criminal cases; cases may also begin in county or city courts.

U.S. Courts of Appeals

Twelve courts which review, cases from U.S. district courts. Each court serves a circuit, made up of two or more states or the District of Columbia.

U.S. District Court

94 courts across the country that try federal criminal and civil cases.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

Reviews civil cases dealing with minor claims against the U.S. government; also hears appeals in patent-rights cases and cases involving international trade.

U.S. Claims Court

Tries federal cases involving amounts over $10,000 and cases involving government contractors.

U.S. Court of International Trade

Tries cases involving conflicts over imports and exports.


1. The Supreme Court agrees to review a case when how many Justices grant a writ of certiorari? --

2. What is the definition of jurisdiction? --

3. In which kinds of cases does the Supreme Court have original jurisdiction? --

4. What kinds of appeals must the Supreme Court hear? --

5. How does the Supreme Court set precedents? --

6. What do you think happens to a case that the Supreme Court refuses to hear? --

7. Can a lower court decide if a law is unconstitutional? --

8. What kinds of cases do state supreme courts review? --

9. Which court handles federal lawsuits involving imports and exports? --

10. Imagine that you created a sugar-free bubble gum with vitamins. But someone has stolen, your patent. In which court should you file your complaint? --


1. Four or more

2. The area over which a person or group has legal authority.

3. The Court must hear cases that may set a precedent, including those in which a state sues another state or the federal government.

4. Appeals that seek to declare federal or state laws unconstitutional.

5. Only the Supreme Court has the final authority to determine whether laws, the actions of public officials, and lower-court rulings are legal according to the Constitution.

6. In cases the Court refuses to hear, the lower court's ruling stands

7. Yes, but the Supreme Court has the right to overturn the lower court's ruling.

8. They review state appellate court rulings.

9. U.S. Court of International Trade

10. U.S. Claims Court
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Title Annotation:Skills Master 2
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 5, 2004
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