The complexity of the U.S. Court system is examines in this worksheet and lesson set.

The court system in the United States is composed of a federal system and fifty individual state court systems. The vast majority of legal cases are heard and often resolved at the state level. Each state has its own laws and requires a separate expert lawyer. Our legal system is based on the pretense of the adversarial process which basically states that both parties the plaintiff and defendant must be treat equally. They must be able to debate and argue regardless of the offense that the defendant is charged with. This collection of lessons and worksheets looks at hierarchy of the United States Courts. Topics include courts at all levels including: federal, district, circuits, and even the Supreme Court. We also look at the basic judicial process as an argument makes its way to the highest level.

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Print Court System Worksheets

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Federal Court System Reading Worksheet

Federal Court System Reading Worksheet

There are three levels of federal courts in the United States. At the lowest level is the district level.

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Federal Court System Question Worksheet

The Federal System Multiple Choice Questions

The Supreme Court in D.C. is the highest degree in the United States, and all of their decisions are final.

District Courts Worksheet

District Courts

At the district level judges hear most of the trials at the federal level, and they hear both civil and criminal cases.

District Courts Short Answer Worksheet

District Courts Short Answer Questions

Another kind of judge at the district level is the federal magistrate judge. These judges are appointed at the district level.

Circuit Courts Worksheet

Circuit Courts

There are 94 federal judicial districts (and 94 district courts) and these are organized into 12 regions.

Circuit Courts Question Worksheet

QUESTIONS: Circuit Courts

There are multiple judges in each circuit court. Smaller regions have fewer judges (as few as six); larger regions have more (as many as 29).

Supreme Court Worksheet

The Supreme Court

The judges in the Supreme Court are called "justices" Like all federal judges, they are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and serve life terms.

Supreme Court Question Worksheet

QUESTIONS: The Supreme Court

What requirement does the circuit level have that the Supreme Court doesn't have?

Judicial Process Worksheet

The Judicial Process

The U.S. Constitution guarantees every person the right to a fair trial before a competent judge and/or a jury of their peers.

Judicial Process Question Worksheet

QUESTIONS: The Judicial Process

All trials, both civil and criminal are first heard by a district level judge.

The Jury Reading Worksheet

The Jury Reading Worksheet

Jury members must meet certain qualifications. They must be at least eighteen years old.

The Jury Question Worksheet


What might cause a potential juror to be excused from hearing a trial?

History of the Court System Worksheet

History of the Court System

The authority to establish judicial authority in the United States was given to Congress by the Articles of Confederation before the Constitution was written.

History of the Court System Question Worksheet

QUESTIONS: History of the U.S. Court System

Because many of the time worried that the states would lose power as federal power increased, the Judiciary Act included provisions for the state level to exercise jurisdiction over many federal questions.

Getting a Case to the Supreme Court Worksheet

Getting a Case to the Supreme Court Reading Worksheet

In order for the Supreme Court to hear a case, at least four of the nine Justices must agree to grant the writ of certiorari.

Supreme Court Question Worksheet

Getting a Case to the Supreme Court - Short Answer Questions

What does granting a writ of certiorari mean and not mean with regards to the Supreme Court's feelings about the case?

Federal vs. State Courts Worksheet

Federal vs. State Courts

The judicial system in the United States consists of both federal and state courts.

Federal vs. State Courts Question Worksheet

Federal vs. State Courts- Multiple Choice Questions

Federal courts hear cases that deal with whether or not a law is constitutional; cases involving the laws and treaties of the U.S.; and cases involving ambassadors and public ministers.

State Court System Worksheet

The State Court System

Most cases take place in state trial courts. Trial courts can be either civil or criminal. In either case, each side is given an opportunity to learn as much about the case as they can before it begins.

State Court System Short Answer Worksheet

The State Court System - Short Answer

What are the two kinds of trials that you can have?

How Does the Court System Work?

The federal government of the United States has three branches: the executive, legislative, and judiciary. The judicial branch takes charge of the country’s court system. Apart from that, individual states also have their own three branches of government and court systems akin to the federal level.

The United States has a dual court system composed of federal and state courts. Federal courts hear cases that can violate the Constitution or breach federal laws. Meanwhile, state courts deal with any lawsuit apart from those under the federal courts’ exclusive jurisdiction.

Federal Court System

The federal court system has three levels: district, circuit, and the United States Supreme Court. But they only hear cases that fall into these scenarios:

  • A case where federal law is at the center of the lawsuit
  • Lawsuits that involve treaties within federal law
  • Cases that involve the Constitution
  • The United States government is a party to the lawsuit
  • A lawsuit involving more than one state with an issue worth more than $70,000

District Courts

There are 94 district courts in the United States. Each district has at least one judge, who serves for life, appointed by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate.

There are also subject-specific courts within the district level. They usually deal with tax cases, claims against the federal government, bankruptcy, and international trade.

Circuit Courts

There are 12 circuit courts across the United States, equivalent to state appellate courts. They hear appeals from district courts within their region. Each circuit court has several judges appointed by the President, confirmed by the United States Senate, and can serve for life.

Some circuit courts deal with a specific subject matter like the district levels do.

The United States Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court is the highest in the country, and every decision it makes is binding across the entire country. It also serves as the last court for appeal, so if you lose your appeal with the Supreme Court, it’s final.

It is composed of nine justices who can serve for life and are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

The Supreme Court only hears a few cases and can decline to hear a case. It usually hears lawsuits that raise federal or constitutional questions, such as due process, equal protection of laws, or a necessary federal statute. They also hear cases where the federal government initiated the appeal.

However, the US Supreme Court serves as a trial court and has original jurisdiction in lawsuits that are:

  • Between the United States and a state
  • Between two or more states
  • Involve diplomats or foreign officials
  • Filed by citizens of one state against citizens of another state or a foreign country

State Court Systems

All 50 states have their respective court systems, and most civil or criminal lawsuits are usually filed in state courts. They hear all kinds of cases, and most ordinary cases go through them. However, state courts are prohibited from hearing lawsuits against the United States and lawsuits that involve federal laws affecting the following:

  • Criminal laws
  • Anti-trust
  • Bankruptcy
  • Patent and copyright
  • Maritime law

The people elect most state court judges. In some instances, the governor appoints them. State judges can serve for life or a limited term.

Like the federal court system, state courts have three levels:

  • Trial
  • Appellate
  • State Supreme

State courts have the final say in interpreting state laws and constitutions. However, a party may appeal their interpretation of the Constitution or a federal statute to the US Supreme Court.

State Trial

All cases that do not fall under the scope of the federal courts start at the trial court level. A judge or a jury makes the decision on a case first by hearing the testimonies of witnesses. After testimony is given, the judge or jury looks at the evidence presented and applies the law based on it.

State Appellate

If a party loses a case at the trial court level, they can appeal to the appellate courts. A panel of judges will review the case to determine if the trial court's decision made a legal error and if that error affected the lawsuit’s outcome. Their decision will be based on a majority vote.

State Supreme

Should a party lose their case at the appellate level, they may bring their appeal before state supreme courts that will review the decisions of state trial and appellate courts. Their decisions form part of the laws of the state, and all state courts must recognize this decision.

The state supreme court's decisions can be appealed before the US Supreme Court if it involves interpretations of the US Constitution or a federal statute.


The United States has a dual court system, with the federal government having three levels. States also have their court systems depending on their constitution or legislation. Both federal and state courts have three levels.

Knowing where to file a lawsuit is essential so the appropriate judge or justice can adequately assess it.