Federal courts are arranged in a hierarchy. Judges, writing their interpretation of the law when applying it to a particular case, are bound by the decisions or precedent of the judges higher up in their hierarchy.
The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court acts as another appellate court, usually only deciding if the lower court applied the law to the facts correctly. The U.S. Supreme Court is made up of nine Justices who are appointed by the President and passed by the Senate for an unlimited term to insure their objectivity. The Supreme Court chooses the cases it will hear except for cases which have the automatic right to their review. Often, the Court chooses cases involving conflicting opinions of the circuit courts.
The next level down is the appellate court which is called the circuit court at the federal level. When a final resolution was reached in trial court, the party that was ruled against can appeal the decision. Usually, the appellate court’s role is not to hear the case all over again. This court looks at what the trial court did and concludes if there were mistakes in applying the law to the facts. These courts issue opinions that the trial courts below it must follow. The country is divided into 13 circuits. The decisions of these courts are binding on all the district courts of that circuit, but not the other circuit courts or other district courts. But these decisions can be what are called persuasive on these courts in that the courts of other circuits can use the logic in cases in their own jurisdiction.
The nation’s 94 district or trial courts are called U.S. District Courts. District courts resolve disputes by determining the facts and applying legal principles to decide who is right. Every state has at least one district court including the District of Colombia. For the state of Texas, there are four districts: Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western. The Western District includes the San Antonio division.