Functions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals

Functions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals

4 Min.

Courts of appeals are responsible for reviewing appeals from lower courts, both at the state and federal levels. Unlike lower courts, courts of appeals consist of a committee of judges, often referred to as justices, rather than a jury. At the federal level, there are 13 courts of appeals, while each state has its own courts of appeals system, which may include intermediate appellate courts.


Courts of appeals, also known as appellate courts, are an important part of the American judicial system. Their main purpose is to review and reconsider decisions made in lower courts. When individuals or organizations are dissatisfied with the outcome of a case in a lower court, they have the option to appeal to an appellate court. The appellate court will then carefully examine the case and determine if the decision made in the lower court was fair and lawful. If the appeal is successful, the original decision may be reversed or modified.

Appellate courts exist at both the state and federal levels. Unlike lower courts, appellate courts do not involve a jury. Instead, a panel of judges, called justices, presides over the appeals process, ensuring a fair and impartial review of the case.

The Structure of U.S. Courts of Appeals

Appellate courts are vital in the judicial system, as they review lower court decisions to ensure the correct application of the law. They provide an opportunity for individuals who have received unfavorable judgments to have their cases reevaluated. This is especially important for publicly traded companies, as an unfavorable ruling can cause a decline in their stock prices. However, through the appeals process, companies can challenge the previous decisions and potentially reverse them, leading to an increase in stock prices.

Appellate courts carefully examine the evidence from lower court proceedings to determine if the earlier judgments were supported by sufficient proof and if the law was applied correctly. A successful appeal often results in a significant boost in stock prices, restoring confidence among investors. If an appeal is unsuccessful, there is still the option to appeal further to the highest level of the appellate court system, which is the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court handles cases of national importance and serves as the final authority, ensuring consistency in the interpretation and implementation of the law.

Supreme Courts vs. Courts of Appeals

Supreme courts hold significant authority and jurisdiction, surpassing courts of appeals in the American legal system. The highest legal authority in the United States is the U.S. Supreme Court, while individual states also have their own supreme courts, referred to as the court of last resort. These supreme courts review decisions rendered by courts of appeals. At the federal level, there are 13 courts of appeals, consisting of 12 district courts of appeals and an appeals court for the Federal Circuit.

To streamline the appeals process and manage caseloads effectively, many states have established intermediate appellate courts. These intermediate courts function as an additional layer between lower courts and the state Supreme Court, providing a means to alleviate the workload of the higher court. Approximately 41 out of the 50 states have implemented intermediate appellate courts, ensuring a more efficient and responsive appellate system overall.

Example of an Appellate Court Decision

In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit made a ruling on a case involving Oracle and Google. The case centered around Google's use of parts of Oracle's Java programming language when creating the Android operating system. Oracle claimed that Google's use of these parts violated their copyright and sued for damages.

The district court initially ruled in favor of Google, but Oracle appealed the decision. The Ninth Circuit ultimately ruled in favor of Oracle, stating that Google's use of the Java programming language was not covered under fair use. The case was then sent back to the lower court to determine the amount of damages owed to Oracle.

This ruling had significant implications for the technology industry, as it set a precedent for copyright protection of software code. Many tech companies, including Microsoft and IBM, supported Google in the case, arguing that allowing such lawsuits could stifle innovation and development in the industry.


Courts of appeals play a vital role in the American judicial system, providing an opportunity for individuals or organizations to appeal unfavorable judgments. They carefully examine lower court decisions to ensure the correct application of the law and provide a means to alleviate the workload of higher courts. The U.S. Supreme Court serves as the final authority, ensuring consistency in the interpretation and implementation of the law.

Courts of Appeals (Appellate Courts)
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