Other Federal Courts
The federal court system also includes several courts with specialized jurisdiction. These courts handle cases in certain areas requiring specific legal expertise.
Federal courts fall into one of two broad classifications, depending on the source of their authority. Article III of the Constitution, as explained in the Introduction to Federal Courts, provides that Congress shall create the Supreme Courts and inferior federal courts. The federal courts discussed so far in this module are known as "Article III" courts. However, Article I of the Constitution gives the Congress broad power to create "tribunals" inferior to the Supreme Court. The so-called "Article I" courts are not part of the structure of the federal courts, but serve important roles in the federal government. Unlike other federal judges, judges in "Article I" courts are not appointed for life.
Other Article III Courts
The federal bankruptcy courts handle claims for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is the process by which a debtor can establish a plan to resolve debts. A bankruptcy plan allows some debts to be discharged, releasing debtors from personal responsibility for the debts and stopping creditors from collecting on the debts. The process also liquidates some of the debtor's assets and distributes them amongst his creditors. Because bankruptcy is strictly a federal issue, it is handled exclusively by the federal bankruptcy courts, with bankruptcy judges who are familiar with the law in this area.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is a specialized circuit court with national jurisdiction. The Federal Circuit hears appeals on most patent issues. It also serves as an appellate court for many of the Article I courts, including the Court of International Trade, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and the Court of Federal Claims.
Article I Courts
The United States Tax Court handles cases involving the federal tax system. The Tax Court hears cases where taxpayers dispute the amount of income tax paid, as well as the tax collection process. Nineteen judges, appointed by the President, serve on the Tax Court. The Tax Court is headquarted in Washington, D.C.
The United States Court of International Trade has jurisdiction over cases involving the international trade laws. Nine judges sit on this court, which has a national jurisdiction. The Court of International Trade is headquartered in New York City.
The United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims handles appeals from veterans from the Board of Veterans' Appeals, which is an administrative court within the Department of Veterans' Affairs. This court largely hears cases involving benefits, such as disability benefits and survivor's benefits.
The United States Court of Federal Claims hears cases involving claims for money damages against the Federal government. This court hears cases involving bids on federal contracts, tax refunds, civil service and military pay disputes, copyright infringement claims, and claims against Indian tribes. Sixteen judges serve on this court, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces has worldwide jurisdiction over appeals of military court-martial cases under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Additionally, many federal agencies have "administrative law judges" to handle appeals from citizens. The Social Security Administration (SSA), for example, has a complex process by which individuals who are denied benefits can appeal these decisions to an administrative law judge, and then to an appeals council. Once a final decision is made by the SSA's administrative law judges, an applicant can appeal that decision to a federal district court.