U.S. Legal System Structure

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Overview of U.S. legal system. Generally, the U.S. Legal System consists of federal, state and local laws. These laws are created by passage of legislation and by case law decided in our federal and state court systems.

Federal statutes. The federal statutes are enacted by the U.S. Congress and are found in the U.S. Code. The U.S. Code may be abbreviated in our publications by U.S.C. Federal agencies that enforce these statutes create regulations or rules that carry out the statutes. Federal regulations can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations or C.F.R.

Federal court system. The Federal court system consists of the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the U.S. District Courts. The U.S. District Courts consider the facts of each case during a trial and apply the law to those facts. Decisions of the U.S. District Courts can be appealed to the appropriate circuit of the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. Our newsletter often refers to the decisions of particular U.S. Courts of Appeals. Below is a listing of the circuits of the U.S. Courts of Appeals and the states under their jurisdiction.

  • First Circuit: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island.
  • Second Circuit: Connecticut, New York, Vermont.
  • Third Circuit: Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virgin Islands.
  • Fourth Circuit: Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia.
  • Fifth Circuit: District of the Canal Zone, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas.
  • Sixth Circuit: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee.
  • Seventh Circuit: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin.
  • Eighth Circuit: Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota.
  • Ninth Circuit: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam, Hawaii.
  • Tenth Circuit: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming.
  • Eleventh Circuit: Alabama, Florida, Georgia.
  • District of Columbia Circuit: District of Columbia.
  • Federal Circuit: All federal judicial districts concerning certain limited issues.

State statutes. Each state has its own set of statutes which can create obligations in addition to federal laws for employers. Like federal statutes, state statutes may have rules or regulations which are created by the appropriate state agency to help carry out the statute.

State court system. Each state has its own court system consisting generally of district courts which hear the facts and apply the law to those facts, and an appellate court or courts which consider legal issues on appeal.

Local law. Municipalities and other local government entities also have laws which may impact on the obligations of employers, and should be considered when making employment decisions.

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