While there is an extensive network of federal and state courts in the United States, the Constitution specifically creates only one court. Article III of the Constitution creates "one Supreme Court," which is the final judicial authority in the U.S.. Article III also gives Congress the power to create lower, or "inferior" federal courts.

Original and Appellate Jurisdiction

You may have heard someone say that he would "take his case all the way to the Supreme Court." However, getting the Supreme Court to hear your case isn't as easy as it sounds. Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution establishes what types of cases the Court can hear. In cases in which the Court has original jurisdiction, such as cases involving ambassadors, parties can bring a lawsuit directly in the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court exercises original jurisdiction sparingly. Most of the cases the Supreme Court hears are appeals from cases already decided in lower federal courts or state courts. In these cases, the Supreme Court is exercising what Article III Section 2 refers to as "appellate jurisdiction." The Supreme Court refuses to hear approximately 70 percent of the appeals petitions it receives each year.