Federal Courts & What They Do


This is a simple downloadable 33-page pdf document that provides a detailed explanation of the Federal Court system via question-based topics that typically are about a page long.  A very useful diagram of the Court Systems of the United States is included in the document as well as a map of the Geographical Boundaries of U.S. Courts of Appeals and U.S. District Courts.  

The document's table of contents is as follows:

What Is a Court?  
What Is a Federal Court?  
What Kinds of Federal Courts Are There?  
Who Sets Up the Federal Court System?  
What’s the Difference Between Civil Cases and Criminal Cases?  
What Kinds of Cases Are Tried in State Courts?  
What Kinds of Cases Are Tried in Federal Courts?  
How Does a Case Come into a Federal Court?  
Is There a Trial for Every Case?    
May I Watch a Trial in Progress?  
What Is the Purpose of the Trial?  
Who Are the People in the Courtroom?  
What Happens During a Trial?  
What Happens After the Trial or Guilty Plea?  

The final pages of the document are core facts and concepts to "remember," a glossary of terms, and an overview of the Federal Judicial Center.

How do you use it?

Although this resource is very text heavy, its clarity is a advantage for judges and other presenters.  The material could be used as-is as the introductory assignment in advance of a judge coming to give a presentation or for a classroom visit to a courtroom, or individual topics from the document could be mined for material for use in a PowerPoint or other kind of presentation.    

There are no interactive elements suggested in the document.  Judges and other teachers relying on the document for a presentation to students would need to come up with their own discussion questions or other kinds of engaging activities.  

Who is the audience?

The clarity of the resource makes it appropriate for middle school and older students, albeit the material and style of presentation is rather dry.

What other resources will complement this?

  1. Appellate Courts: Let's Take It Up  Lesson Plan from iCivics (P, M, H) 
  2. Court Quest  Game from Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics and iCivics (M, H, A)
  3. Courts in the Classroom  Videos from the Judicial Council of California and the Administrative Office (P, M H)
  4. Interactive Diagram of the Federal Court System — Interactive document from Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics (M, H, A)
  5. Oyez Baseball  Game from Justia and the Oyez Project (M, H, A)
  6. Supreme Decision  Game from iCivics (M, H) 
  7. What the Federal Courts Do  Website/slideshow from the Federal Judicial Center (M, H, A)
And on Bankruptcy:
  1. What is a Bankruptcy Case?
  2. How Bankruptcy Cases Move through Federal Courts 
  3. How Bankruptcy Cases Move Through Federal Courts — Quiz #6

Additional Recommended Resources Off-Site Links
  1. A Constitutional Timeline
    • Multi-aged audience timeline that highlights key dates in history of Constitution, with links to text, audio and video clips. From National Constitution Center's Constitution Day site. 
  2. Interactive Constitution
    • Multi-aged audience site that enables users to search Constitution by keyword or topic, with access to explanatory materials throughout. From National Constitution Center.   
  3. The Annenberg Guide to the United States Constitution
    • Multi-aged audience site that lists the text of each section of every article in the Constitution, and provides explanation of what the text means in plain language.  From the Leonore Annenberg Institute of Civics. 
  4. Understanding the Federal Courts
    • Multi-aged online textbook-type document that includes sections on Article III, the Federal Court system and the geographical boundaries of the Courts of Appeal and the District Courts, the code of conduct for judges, juror qualifications, exemptions and terms of service, as well as categories of bankruptcy cases.  From the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.