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What is a state or U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals? In the early history of America, each Supreme Court justice traveled to a group of states to hold appeals court cases that had been referred from the district courts. While an associate Supreme Court justice may occasionally act in an appellate decision (such as a last-minute death penalty appeal), there are now too many cases for the nine justices to hear.

Cases for which federal appeals courts have jurisdiction include those involving treaties, patents, bankruptcies, issues of constitutionality (occasionally involving unusually large punitive damage awards), cases involving ambassadors, admiralty cases, habeas corpus, interstate disputes, diversity of venue situations, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) and similar U.S. government cases. Under the U.S. Constitution the state courts handle everything else. In the federal court system the district court is the trial court. In states the trial court may have different names: the superior court, the county court, and in New York the trial court is called the “supreme” court, while the higher court is the Court of Appeals.

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