AP US Government : Structure of the Federal Courts

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP US Government

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Federal Courts

There are three “levels” of Federal courts, what are they? 

Possible Answers:

Appellate Term, Chancery Court, Supreme Court 

Magistrate Court, Superior Court, Supreme Court 

Court of Criminal Behavior, Probate Court, Magistrate Court 

District Courts, Courts of Appeals (or Circuit Courts), Supreme Court 

Trial Court, Supreme Court, Supreme Judicial Court 

Correct answer:

District Courts, Courts of Appeals (or Circuit Courts), Supreme Court 

Explanation:

Unfortunately, this question doesn't have much of an explanation; it's really just a matter of rote memorization. The correct answer is District Courts, Courts of Appeals (or "Circuit Courts"), Supreme Court.

This follows the basic structure of any court system that allows appeals: trial courts, intermediate appellate courts, and the final appeals court. In the federal system:

  • District Court(s) (there are 94 District Courts) are the trial courts; 
  • Courts of Appeals/Circuit Courts (there are 13, depending on how you count) are the intermediate courts of appeals;
  • Supreme Court (only one) is the "court of final resort." In other words, there is no court higher than the Supreme Court. 

The other answers are all incorrect as they are either: courts that don't even exist, state courts, or a mix of both. 

Example Question #12 : Federal Courts

How are federal judges elected?

Possible Answers:

They’re not. They are appointed by the consensus of the governors of every state

They’re not. They are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate 

They’re not. They are nominated by the president and confirmed by the House 

Annually, on a special US-wide ballot 

Biannually, on a state-by-state basis 

Correct answer:

They’re not. They are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate 

Explanation:

This is a tricky question. For one, federal judges are not elected. Thus, any answer involving election is incorrect. If you narrowed it down to the three answers that don't involve elections, great job! From here, you have to know that Federal judges are nominated by the President. That leaves us with two answers, only one of which is correct.

The trickiest distinction that is left is that between the House and the Senate. After being nominated by the President, a judge-elect is confirmed (or not--it does happen) by the Senate. One of the better ways to remember that this is the Senate's job rather than the House's is that the Founders meant for the Senate to be sort of an advisory board to the President.

 

Example Question #13 : Federal Courts

How many justices sit on the Supreme Court?

Possible Answers:

Correct answer:

Explanation:

Unfortunately, this is another answer that doesn't have much of an explanation. The current number of Justices is set at 9 (although it can be manipulated by Congress, if they so wish). A good way to remember the number is to think that the number almost has to be odd (otherwise, there could be a tie!). 

The other answers are all incorrect. 

Example Question #271 : National Government Institutions

For how long are Article III judge’s terms? For the purposes of this question, restrict your answer to district court judges, courts of appeals judges, and Supreme Court justices.

Possible Answers:

None of the answers are correct

Life with good behavior

Correct answer:

Life with good behavior

Explanation:

The correct answer is “life with good behavior.” To explain that slightly further, once an Article III (as in the Constitution) judge/justice is appointed and confirmed, that judge or justice may stay on the bench for as long as: (1) they’re still breathing, and (2) they have maintained the requisite standard of behavior (i.e. “good” behavior).

“Good behavior” is a little hard to explain—it’s a purposefully vague standard. That said, with one notable exception, every federal judge who has been impeached and then removed from office, has been removed for fairly heinous crimes (perjury, accepting bribes, etc). John Pickering is the exception—he holds the dubious honor of being the first federal judge to be impeached and removed from office. His crime(s)? Drunkenness and insanity. Scholars theorize that Pickering was actually removed for political reasons (that’s a rather clever way of saying that the President and most of Congress REALLY didn’t like him).

Thus, the other answers are all incorrect.

Example Question #271 : National Government Institutions

What are the qualifications to be an Article III judge or justice? For the purposes of this question, restrict your answer to district court judges, courts of appeals judges, and Supreme Court justices.

Possible Answers:

You must be at least 35 years old, and have passed the bar in Washington DC

You must be at least 30 years old and have passed the bar in Washington DC

No qualifications whatsoever

You must be at least 35 years old, have attended an ivy league law school, and have passed the bar in every state

You must be at least 30 years old, have attended an ivy league law school, and have passed the bar in every state

Correct answer:

No qualifications whatsoever

Explanation:

This is a fun question. The answer may have been a surprise to some of you (although hopefully it wasn’t). There are no qualifications to be an Article III judge or justice. Really! Look in the Constitution. You needn’t be a certain age, you don’t have to go to law school—or college, or high school, for that matter.

This total lack reflects the Founders’ general apathy toward what they likely considered to be the least important branch. Notice how the President and both chambers of Congress have age (and citizenship) requirements.

Example Question #11 : Federal Courts

How many justices serve on the Supreme Court?

Possible Answers:

Correct answer:

Explanation:

9 justices serve on the Supreme Court at a time. This ensures that no case ever ends in a tie with votes, and usually means that one justices vote is the deciding factor in a case.

Example Question #11 : Federal Courts

The method of organizing government by distributing power to different levels of government (usually national and state levels) is known as _______________.

Possible Answers:

Democracy

Constitutionalism

Checks and balances

Separation of powers

Federalism

Correct answer:

Federalism

Explanation:

The method of organizing government by distributing power to different levels of government (usually national and state levels) is also known as Federalism. Separation of power is also a distribution of powers, but within different branches of the national government (legislative, judicial, and executive).  

Example Question #18 : Federal Courts

Federal Courts have jurisdiction over what types of cases?

Possible Answers:

Divorce

Two of these answers are correct

Federal Question

Probate

Diversity

Correct answer:

Two of these answers are correct

Explanation:

This is a relatively difficult question, unless you have some background with the federal judiciary. That said, the answer choices should have narrowed your focus slightly. At any rate, the particulars in this question delve into hyper-technical aspects of the federal judiciary that are far beyond the scope of your course. In order to fully understand, however, we’ll touch on them briefly.

Federal (Article III) courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, which means they cannot hear any case that they want to—this reflects the principals of Federalism that are deeply embedded in our Constitution. Among the cases that they can hear are: “diversity” and “federal question.”

Put extremely simply, diversity cases must satisfy two requirements: (1) the plaintiff (the one bringing the case) and the defendant (the one against whom the case is brought) must be citizens of different states; and (2) the damages (that is, the ‘award’ for ‘winning’ the case) must satisfy the “amount in controversy” requirement—currently set at $75,000 (Congress changes this every so often to reflect inflation and other variables). In other words, in order to bring a diversity case, the parties on either side of the “v” must be citizens of different states AND must be asking for greater than $75,000 in damages.

The only other way (for the purposes of your course) to get a case into federal court is through a “federal question.” Federal question is exactly what it sounds like—the harm in the case must “arise under” federal law. Take, for example, a plaintiff who is suing his employer under the National Labor Relations Act—clearly this is a federal question because the harm arose under a federal law.

As for the other two answers—divorce and Probate—they are incorrect. The federal judiciary is actually explicitly forbidden from hearing matters of family law (i.e. divorce); that is, Congress has removed family law from the federal court’s jurisdiction altogether. Probate is incorrect because it is a type of court, one that often deals with issues of family law (such as wills).

Example Question #19 : Federal Courts

Please select the option which correctly depicts the structure of the federal constitutional court system (from least to most powerful).

Possible Answers:

Courts of Appeal – District Courts – Supreme Court

Specialized Courts of Claims – Court of Military appeals – Supreme Court

District Courts – Courts of Appeal - Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

District Courts - Courts of Appeal - Supreme Court

Correct answer:

District Courts - Courts of Appeal - Supreme Court

Explanation:

The federal constitutional court system (as established by the Constitution and Congress) begins with the district courts, of which there are ninety-one in total. District courts are the basic access point for nearly every single federal case and there is at least one in every state. District courts are the only federal courts in which juries are seated and trials are held. Next on the power scale comes the twelve courts of appeal, which review cases appealed to them from the district courts and also are permitted to oversee and enforce orders from some federal regulatory agencies. The nation is split up into twelve judicial circuits, with each circuit serving at least two states – together, these circuits make up the twelve courts of appeal, one for each circuit area. These courts concern themselves with fixing mistakes made by district courts, such as the improper interpretation of a law or an error in trial proceeding. There are no trials or testimonies or juries involved; instead, each court of appeals is normally presided over by one of three judges, who rotate back and forth on a schedule (in rare cases, when a matter is especially vital, all three judges preside at once). All decisions reached by courts of appeals set precedents for their respective district. Finally, the Supreme Court occupies the highest position of authority within the federal court system.

Example Question #11 : Federal Courts

Which of the following is not one of the matters that falls under the district court system’s legal jurisdiction?

Possible Answers:

Naturalization 

Federal crimes 

All diversity of citizenship cases

Maritime law cases 

Correct answer:

All diversity of citizenship cases

Explanation:

A diversity of citizenship case is a civil case that involves a plaintiff and defendant who reside in two separate states (for example, if a resident of New Jersey is suing someone from Oregon). This also applies to civil cases where a foreign national is involved, although this is less common. District courts ONLY have jurisdiction in diversity of citizenship cases if the case at hand involves at least seventy-five thousand dollars (either an amount in contention or sought in damages). Any diversity of citizenship case that involves less than this amount, regardless of the differing state laws involved, must instead be settled in state court. This restriction was placed by Congress upon diversity of citizenship cases because it is believed that when a large amount of money is disputed and/or sought, a district court is more appropriate to decide the matter than a state court, which may be unfairly biased in favor of its involved resident. A federal judge is presumed to be better suited to resolve the matter because they are impartial, without no respective state allegiance.

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