Appeal of a United States District Court Judgment
The party who loses in a federal civil lawsuit can file an appeal after the United States District Court, which is the federal trial court, enters a final judgment in the case. The notice of appeal must be filed with the district court clerk within 30 days after the judgment. The person filing the appeal is called the appellant, and the other party is called the appellee.
Appeals to the United States Courts of Appeals
The United States Courts of Appeals are the intermediate appellate courts of the federal court system. The courts of appeals do not hold trials in which witnesses are presented and evidence is introduced. Instead, the courts of appeals review the decisions of the district courts to determine if the district court made the correct decision based on the evidence presented to it. Generally, a panel of three judges hears an appeal that is brought to the court of appeals. Rarely, all judges of the court of appeals will reconsider the decision of the panel of three judges.
Records on Appeal
After a notice of appeal is filed, a record of the district court’s proceedings is prepared and filed with the clerk of the court of appeals. The record consists of the pleadings in the case, any exhibits, and a trial transcript (a written record of every word spoken during the trial).
Both sides in the appeal submit written briefs to the court of appeals. A brief or legal memorandum identifies the issues presented on appeal. The brief also presents legal arguments in support of (if the party is the appellee) or against (if the party is the appellant) the district court’s judgment. The briefs refer to laws or court decisions supporting the parties’ arguments. The courts of appeals have rules that outline the content and style of briefs.
The court of appeals makes a decision based on what is contained in the record of the case, in the legal arguments of the parties in their briefs, and, if oral arguments are held, the presentations of the parties’ attorneys in their oral arguments. During oral arguments, the judges of the courts of appeals question the attorneys for each side. If an appeal is submitted on the briefs without oral argument, the court of appeals makes its decision based solely on the parties’ briefs and the record of the case.
Standards of Review
The courts of appeals generally decide narrow or specific questions of constitutional law or federal law and procedure.
Appeals to the Supreme Court of the United States
Generally, there is no right to appeal a decision of the court of appeals to the Supreme Court of the United States. However, a party can apply to the Supreme Court to review a judgment of the court of appeals by petitioning for a writ of certiorari. If the Supreme Court grants the application, a procedure similar to the procedure in the court of appeals is followed. A record of the lower courts’ proceedings is filed, and both sides submit briefs. The Supreme Court hears oral arguments in about two-thirds of the cases in which it grants a writ of certiorari. The remaining cases are decided without oral arguments. The cases before the Supreme Court usually involve important questions about the United States Constitution or federal law. A decision of the Supreme Court is final and binding on all lower state and federal courts.