The modern federal court system consists of: (1) the U.S. Supreme Court with one chief justice and eight associate justices; (2) twelve regional circuit courts of appeals and a court of appeals in the District of Columbia that reviews rulings of the district courts; and, (3) ninety-four federal district courts where original criminal cases involving federal law or other jurisdictions established by the Constitution are heard.
In 2004 there were 679 district judges and 179 circuit judges. Federal judges are often former state judges, legal scholars, or state and federal prosecutors. U.S. presidents select federal judges based on political party membership or for gender or race considerations. In addition, Congress used its constitutional authority to establish a series of lower federal courts such as the U.S. Court of Claims, the U.S. Tax Court, and the U.S. Court of Military Appeals.
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