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2.2: Recognizing Federal and State Courts by Name

Goals

Become more comfortable distinguishing different types of courts in the United States

Instructions

  1. Read the discussion of below on distinguishing courts by name
  2. Answer the questions

Distinguishing Federal Courts from State Courts and Appellate Courts from Trial Courts

When US attorneys and law students read cases, they need to recognize whether the case is from a federal or state court. In addition, they need to understand whether they are reading a trial court decision or an appellate-level decision.

Names of Federal Courts

Tip: You can always recognize a federal court because the court will have “United States” in its name.

Federal Trial Level Courts

You already learned that trial level federal courts are called United States district courts. Each federal district court is responsible for a judicial district. Larger states with more litigation have more than one federal judicial district. 

For  example, there are four federal judicial districts in New York:

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, abbreviated as S.D.N.Y.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, abbreviated as E.D.N.Y.

The United States District Court for the Western District of New York, abbreviated as W.D.N.Y.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, abbreviated as N.D.N.Y.

There is just one judicial district in New Jersey, so the federal trial court in New Jersey is called the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Federal Intermediate Level Appellate Courts

You already learned that the intermediate level federal appellate courts are called Circuit Courts.

The full name of these courts is United States Circuit Court of Appeals.

For example, the intermediate level appellate court that hears appeals from New York, Connecticut, and Vermont is called the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, frequently abbreviated as the Second Circuit.

State Court Names

Tip: If “United States” is not in the name of the court you are almost certainly reading a state court case.

State court names vary from state to state.

Trial courts might be called superior courts, circuit courts, district courts, etc.

Note: New York is tricky! New York’s trial-level courts are called New York Supreme Court. But New York Supreme is not the highest court in New York. The court of last resort in New York is called New York Court of Appeals.

Intermediate-level appellate courts might be called the court of appeals, the appellate division, etc.

The highest level state appellate court is almost always called the state supreme court.┬áBut not in New York! New York’s highest court is the Court of Appeals.

2. Answer the Questions