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Introduction to Federal and State Court Systems: Federal vs. State Courts


  • Crimes under state legislation
  • State constitutional issues
  • Cases involving state laws or regulations
  • Family law cases
  • Real property issues
  • Most private contract disputes (apart from those resolved under bankruptcy)
  • Cases involving regulation of professions or trades
  • Most professional malpractice claims
  • Most personal injury/workers' compensation claims
  • Probate/inheritance matters
  • Most traffic violations
  • Crimes under statutes enacted by Congress
  • Most cases involving federal laws or regulations (Examples: tax, Social Security, broadcasting, etc.)
  • Matters involving interstate and international commerce (including airline and railroad regulation)
  • Cases involving securities and commodities regulations
  • Admiralty/Maritime cases
  • International trade law cases
  • Intellectual property cases (copyright, patent, trademark)
  • State law disputes where "diversity of citizenship" exists
  • Bankruptcy cases
  • Disputes between states
  • Habeas corpus actions
  • Crimes punishable under both federal or state law
  • Federal constitutional issues
  • Certain civil rights claims
  • "Class action" cases
  • Environmental regulation
  • Certain disputes involving federal law


  • Handle most cases in the United States
  • Are part of a specific state court system established by the individual states
  • In most states, judges are elected by popular vote or appointed by the state executive (governor) and later subject to a vote on retention
  • Some states impose age limitations (in Michigan, candidates cannot run for election if they are 70 or older)
  • Appointed under Article III of the US Constitution
  • Article III judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate
  • Article III judges are protected with lifetime appointment and the guarantee that their pay will not be decreased while they are in office
  • Can only be removed from office for "high crimes and misdemeanors" by Congress through the impeachment process
  • Other federal judges may have limited terms
    • Example: US Court of Federal Claims judges are appointed by the president for terms of 15 years if confirmed
    • Example: Bankruptcy judges serve 14 year terms and are appointed by the courts of appeals

Judicial Ethics