United States district court
in the United States
|Jurisdiction · Venue|
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Unlike some state courts, the power of federal courts to hear cases and controversies is strictly limited. Federal courts may not decide every case that happens to come before them. In order for a district court to entertain a lawsuit, Congress must first grant the court subject matter jurisdiction over the type of dispute in question. Though Congress may theoretically extend the federal courts' subject matter jurisdiction to the outer limits described in Article III of the Constitution, it has always chosen to give the courts a somewhat narrower power.
The district courts exercise original jurisdiction over—that is, they are empowered to conduct trials in—the following types of cases:
- Civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States;
- Certain civil actions between citizens of different states;
- Civil actions within the admiralty or maritime jurisdiction of the United States;
- Criminal prosecutions brought by the United States;
- Civil actions in which the United States is a party; and
- Many other types of cases and controversies
For most of these cases, the jurisdiction of the federal district courts is concurrent with that of the state courts. In other words, a plaintiff can choose to bring these cases in either a federal district court or a state court. Congress has established a procedure whereby a party, typically the defendant, can "remove" a case from state court to federal court, provided that the federal court also has original jurisdiction over the matter. For certain matters, such as patent and copyright infringement disputes and prosecutions for federal crimes, the jurisdiction of the district courts is exclusive of that of the state courts.[note 2]
In addition to their original jurisdiction, the district courts have appellate jurisdiction over a very limited class of judgments, orders, and decrees.
In order to represent a party in a case in a district court, a person must be an attorney at law and generally must be admitted to the bar of that particular court. The United States usually does not have a separate bar examination for federal practice (except with respect to patent practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office). Admission to the bar of a district court is generally granted as a matter of course to any attorney who is admitted to practice law in the state where the district court sits.[note 3] Many district courts also allow an attorney who has been admitted and remains an active member in good standing of any state, territory or the District of Columbia bar to become a member. The attorney submits his application with a fee and takes the oath of admission. Local practice varies as to whether the oath is given in writing or in open court before a judge of the district.
Several district courts require attorneys seeking admission to their bars to take an additional bar examination on federal law, including the following: the Southern District of Ohio, the Northern District of Florida, and the District of Puerto Rico.
Generally, a final ruling by a district court in either a civil or a criminal case can be appealed to the United States court of appeals in the federal judicial circuit in which the district court is located, except that some district court rulings involving patents and certain other specialized matters must be appealed instead to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and in a very few cases the appeal may be taken directly to the United States Supreme Court.
Busiest district courts
The Central District of California is the largest federal district by population; it includes all five counties that make up the Greater Los Angeles Area. By contrast, New York City and the surrounding metropolitan area are divided between the Southern District of New York (which includes Manhattan and The Bronx) and the Eastern District of New York (which includes Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island). New York suburbs in Connecticut and New Jersey are covered by the District of Connecticut and District of New Jersey, respectively.
The Southern District of New York and the Central District of California are the largest federal districts by number of judges, with 28 and 27, respectively.
In 2007, the busiest district courts in terms of criminal federal felony filings were the District of New Mexico, Western District of Texas, Southern District of Texas, and the District of Arizona. These four districts all share the border with Mexico. A crackdown on illegal immigration resulted in 75 percent of the criminal cases filed in the 94 district courts in 2007 being filed in these four districts and the other district that borders Mexico, the Southern District of California.
Extinct district courts
Subdivided district courts
Most extinct district courts have disappeared by being divided into smaller districts. The following courts were subdivided out of existence: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
Other abolished district courts
On rare occasions, an extinct district court was extinguished by merging it with other district courts. In every case except one, this has restored a district court that had been subdivided:
- Between 1794 and 1797, the United States District Court for the District of North Carolina was divided into the United States District Courts for the Districts of Edenton, New Bern, and Wilmington.
- Between 1801 and 1802, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey was divided into the United States District Courts for the Districts of East Jersey and West Jersey.
- When California was admitted as a state in 1850, it was initially divided into two districts, the Northern and the Southern. The Southern District of California was abolished on July 27, 1866, and the State made to constitute one district, the statute providing that the Judge of the Northern District exercise the powers of the United States District Court for the District of California, and that all records of the Southern District Court be delivered to the Clerk of the Northern District Court. Twenty years later, on August 5, 1886, Congress re-created the Southern District of California.
- Between 1911 and 1961, the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina was divided into the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Western District of South Carolina.
- The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois was eliminated and a new United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois was created in its place on October 2, 1978.
There are a few additional extinct district courts that fall into neither of the above two patterns.
- From 1801 to 1802, the District of Columbia and pieces of Maryland and Virginia formed the United States District Court for the District of Potomac, which was the first United States district court to cross state lines. During the same period, the United States District Court for the District of Norfolk was carved out of another piece of Virginia. The United States District Courts for the Districts of Maryland and Virginia remained during this brief period.
- From 1801 to 1802, and again from 1802 to 1872, the state of North Carolina was subdivided into the United States District Courts for the Districts of Albemarle, Cape Fear, and Pamptico. These courts were extinguished when the state was reorganized into the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of North Carolina.
- United States District Court for the District of Orleans. This court was renamed the United States District Court for the District of Louisiana when the Territory of Orleans became the State of Louisiana.
- United States District Court for the Canal Zone. This court was abolished, effective March 31, 1982, as part of the process of returning the Canal Zone to Panama. Cases then pending in the Canal Zone court were transferred to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans.
- United States Court for China. This court functioned as a district court between 1906 and 1943. It had jurisdiction over American citizens in China.
- Article III of the Constitution provides that the "judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in . . . such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish."
- In some situations, federal law provides both for the exclusive jurisdiction of federal courts and for the immunity of the defendant from the power of those courts. One example of this is patent-infringement claims against a state government: only the federal courts may hear patent cases, but the states have sovereign immunity from such suits under the Eleventh Amendment. Although a state may choose to waive its immunity in such a case and allow it to proceed to trial, if it does not do so, the plaintiff has no recourse. This doctrine was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States in Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Education Expense Board v. College Savings Bank, 527 U.S. 627 (1999).
- Nearly all district courts have a Local Rule 11.1 or 83.1 that describes the appropriate state judicial institution which admits attorneys to practice (either the state bar association or an office or committee of the state supreme court).
- United States District Courts
- United States District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands
- 48 U.S.C. § 1424 (District Court of Guam; local courts; jurisdiction)
- U. S. Courts | Frequently Asked Questions
- 28 U.S.C. § 631
- Federal Judgeships, United States Courts.
- http://www.jdjournal.com/2013/07/08/study-exposes-obamas-federal-district-vacancies-as-uniquely-high/ June, Daniel "Study Exposes Obama's Federal District Vacancies as 'Uniquely High'"
- 28 U.S.C. § 1331
- 28 U.S.C. § 1332
- 28 U.S.C. § 1333
- 18 U.S.C. § 3231
- 28 U.S.C. § 1345 (United States as plaintiff); 28 U.S.C. § 1346 (United States as defendant)
- Title 28, United States Code, Chapter 85.
- See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. § 158(a)(1) (U.S. district courts are authorized to hear appeals from final judgments, orders, and decrees of U.S. bankruptcy judges).
- Okray, John (2010). U.S. Federal Courts: Attorney Admission Requirements. Fort Worth, TX: Lawyerup Press
- Local Rule 83.3, Local Rules of the Southern District of Ohio.
- Local Rule 11.1, Local Rules of the Northern District of Florida,
- Local Rule 83.1, Local Rules of the District of Puerto Rico.
- 28 U.S.C. § 133
- Border Crackdown Jams US Federal Courts (May 7, 2007).
- Goldman, Russell (July 23, 2008). "What's Clogging the Courts? Ask America's Busiest Judge". ABC News.
- Willoughby Rodman, History of the Bench and Bar of Southern California (1909), p. 46.
- United States District Courts Official Website
- United States District Courts by State
- Federal Court Concepts, Georgia Tech
- Links to researching court records and also National Archives: Records of District Courts of the United States (Record Group 21) 1685-1993.
- Territorial Courts at Federal Judicial Center
- United States District Courts at Federal Judicial Center
- United States District Court Civil Case Filings
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