What the Federal Courts Do

From the Federal Judicial Center

This is a simple online series of "documents" that via slideshow navigation provides a detailed explanation of the Federal Court system.  

There are six main sections of the slideshow:  What the Federal Courts DoHow the Federal Courts Are OrganizedHow Cases Move Through the Federal CourtsWho Does WhatThe Federal Courts and the Other Branches of Government, and Federal Court Governance and Administration.

Each of those main sections includes multiple sub-pages, and those individual pages also include helpful embedded links to glossary terms within the text. 

Separate pages for a very long set of definition of terms, arranged alphabetically, and for quizzes on each core topic are also helpful.


How do you use it?

Although this resource is very text heavy, its clarity is an advantage for judges and other presenters.  The material could be used as the introductory assignment in advance of a judge coming to give a presentation or for a classroom visit to a courtroom. 

The material on any or all of the online pages could also be provided to students by a judge as a hard-copy handout, provided in advance of a judge's presentation via the URL link, or adapted (and greatly simplified) by a judge or teacher for use in a PowerPoint or other kind of presentation.     

The website is set up to be an online slideshow (accessed via the forward/back buttons at the bottom of the page).  Alternatively, by navigating through the left-hand column table of contents, one can go directly to a specific topic page.  Clicking through the entire slideshow/set of pages gives viewers an overview of the federal court structure and so this website (or any subset of pages) would be a solid component of a more general lecture about the courts.

Beyond the online set of quizzes (which are set up to be individually accessed), there are no interactive elements to the website.  Judges and other teachers relying on the site 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. Federal Courts & What They Do  Document from the Federal Judicial Center (H, A)
  5. Interactive Diagram of the Federal Court System — Interactive document from Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics (M, H, A)
  6. Oyez Baseball  Game from Justia and the Oyez Project (M, H, A)
  7. Supreme Decision  Game from iCivics (M, H) 
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.