- November 20, 2017
Federal courts are established under the U.S. Constitution by Congress to decide disputes involving the Constitution and laws passed by Congress. State and local courts are established by a state (within states there are also local courts that are established by cities, counties, and other municipalities, which we are including in the general discussion of state courts). Federal courts hear cases such as bankruptcy, copyright, patent, and maritime law cases.
The differences between federal courts and state courts are further defined by jurisdiction. Jurisdiction refers to the kinds of cases a court is authorized to hear.
State courts, have a broad jurisdiction, so the cases people are most likely to be involved in–such as robberies, traffic violations, broken contracts, and family disputes–are usually tried in state courts. The only cases state courts are not allowed to hear are lawsuits against the United States and those involving certain specific federal laws: criminal, antitrust, bankruptcy, patent, copyright, and some maritime law cases.
In many cases, both federal and state courts have jurisdiction. This allows parties to choose whether to go to state court or to federal court.