Judge Charles Burns Provides an Introduction to United States Courts of Appeals or Circuit Courts

The United States Courts of Appeals (or circuit courts) are basically the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal courts. As Judge Charles Burns points out, the Court of Appeals was originally created in 1891 and has grown to include thirteen courts. The circuit courts provide judgments for appeals from any of the district courts that are in its federal judicial circuit. They might also hear appeals from certain administrative agencies. The decisions of the federal appeals court can additionally be appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Judge Charles Burns briefly underlines valuable insights about the courts of appeals or circuit courts of the United States

There are thirteen United States Courts of appeals or circuit courts. The eleven “numbered” circuits and the D.C. Circuit are defined by geography, while the thirteenth one is the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. All of the courts of appeals do hear appeals in regard to various administrative agency decisions and rulemaking, and the largest share of this type of case is heard by the D.C. Circuit. The Federal Circuit additionally is known to hear appeals from specialized trial courts, particularly the Court of Federal Claims and the Court of International Trade. It also hears appeals from the district courts in patent cases as well as certain other specialized matters.

The rules by which the procedures of the circuit courts are governed by come under the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. In any circuit court, an appeal is usually heard by a panel of three judges. These judges are selected at a random from the available judges, including the senior judges and judges temporarily assigned to the circuit. Certain cases however do receive an en banc hearing.  Except in the Ninth Circuit, the en banc court comprises of all circuit judges on active status, but does not include senior or assigned judges.

Historically, specific cases held a right of automatic appeal to the Supreme Court. Under this, one of the parties to the case may appeal a decision of a circuit court and the Supreme Court had to accept the case. However, there is no longer any right of automatic appeal for a decision of a Court of Appeals. Rather, a party might apply to that court to review a ruling of the circuit court. This process is called petitioning for a writ of certiorari. The Supreme Court subsequently may review any such ruling, at its discretion. In very rare cases, the Supreme Court may grant certiorari before judgment. The circuit courts can even certify questions to the Supreme Court. While this procedure was used on occasion formally, it is pretty rare today.

In the opinion of Judge Charles Burns, unlike trial court decisions, the decisions of the Appeals court are binding precedent. Other courts in that circuit should follow the appellate court’s guidance in similar cases, from that point forward. However, it is also important to understand that laws may change with time. Hence, the law that exists at the time of the appeal may differ from the law that existed at the time of the events being disputed by the litigants.