Our Federal System of Government
Session 31: Skill Builder: Judicial Caseloads
- Transparency: “U.S. District Court — Eastern Virginia” (Attachment S)
- Ask students to review Article II of the Constitution. Note that the only court created by the Constitution of the United States is the Supreme Court.
- Explain that the first Congress created the United States district courts in 1789. Congress knew the Supreme Court could not hear every legal case. These were the only two levels of federal courts for about a century. Today, more than 80 percent of all federal cases are heard in the United States district courts.
- Display the transparency titled “U.S. District Court — Eastern Virginia” (Attachment S) that presents the caseload for the Eastern Virginia court.
- Ask several questions to get students used to using graphs to gather information. They might include:
• What year had the highest number of cases filed? (2002) How many were there? (10,908)
• What was the increase in the number of cases filed in the 6-year period? (5,560)
• What percent increase is this? (104%)
• There are 94 federal districts. How many cases would have been filed in federal district courts in 2002 if they had the same number as this district? (1,025,325)
• There were actually only 344,546. This shows that the Virginia United States district courts have a very high caseload compared to other states.
- In 1891, Congress created the United States Court of Appeals. These courts were intended to relieve the Supreme Court of the heavy load of hearing all of the appeals from the United States district courts. (At the time this was enacted, the United States Supreme Court was three years behind on hearing cases.)
- Over the last 25 years, some people have called for another level of courts to weed out cases where there is really no legal question. Others say this will just add another layer to the federal bureaucracy and cost the taxpayers money.
- Ask students to write a short paragraph explaining why there should or should not be another level of federal courts.