McGeorge Adjunct Professor Chris Micheli

There are federal and state judicial branches of government and separate court systems at both of these levels of government. The federal courts are established in Article III of the US Constitution. California’s courts are established in Article VI of the state Constitution.

Article III of the US Constitution contains three sections. Section 1 vests the judicial power of the country in the Supreme Court and also mentions the inferior courts that Congress may establish. It also specifies that there are no term limits for federal judges and establishes the Chief Justice, but neither the size of the Supreme Court nor other specific positions on the Court.

Section 2 of Article III of the Federal Constitution sets forth the powers of the federal courts. Essentially, federal court jurisdiction is limited to cases that arise from the federal Constitution or the laws and treaties of the federal government, those involving multiple states or foreign governments, and some other specified areas. The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction with ambassadors, with states that are a party to a case, and juries must be used for federal criminal prosecutions. Finally, Section 3 of Article III defines treason and it specifies that Congress may punish it. There are also specified requirements for treason cases and how treason as a crime can be punished.

All state constitutions create their respective state court systems. They all have a high court, generally referred to as the Supreme Court. Many states have an intermediate appellate court. All of them, of course, have trial courts, some of which are called circuit or district courts. Most states provide for the courts to handle specific legal matters including things like probate and family law matters. Here in California, Article VI of the California Constitution contains 23 different sections.

Note that there are differences between the states and the federal judiciary when it comes to the selection of judges. The US Constitution states that federal judges are to be nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate. They hold office typically for life. State court judges are selected in several different ways including election and appointment by the Governor. Generally, they either have specified terms or life terms. In California, trial court judges are elected, generally, but the Governor may appoint judges to fill vacancies. Appellate court justices are appointed by the Governor and then confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Nominations – or the JNE Commission.

You can find the full transcript of today’s podcast here.