State and Federal Court Systems

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A healthy democratic society can exist only if the people of the State have respect for their legal system. That respect comes not from being awed by the system but rather, from understanding that system…

—Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court, Mike Heavican

(Source: Nebraska Judicial Branch,

While many countries have a single court system that works across a nation, the United States has a federal court system and a court system for each of the 50 states. Within the federal and state court systems, there are hierarchies of court levels and specialized courts that hear cases pertaining to specific jurisdictional matters. State systems may differ somewhat from the federal model, depending on the individual state. For instance, a particular state may have a greater or lesser number of appellate courts than the federal system. Understanding these differences will help you conduct legal research at the state level. It also will help you discern how to interpret published state case law in conjunction with federal opinions.

To prepare for this Assignment:

Review Rule 10 in The Bluebook.

Research your state’s court system using the Internet.

Choose one type or level of court (e.g., trial courts, appellate courts, or courts of last resort) to use for this assignment.

Using your state court system’s website, the LexisNexis database, or the websites provided in this week’s Learning Resources, search for and select a state case that was heard in the court you chose. Consider why the case you selected was heard in that particular court.

With these thoughts in mind:

Provide the primary resources on the policy issue in which you are interested. Provide details and links. Then, explain the strengths and limitations of the primary resources as they relate to researching the issues you selected. Justify the use of secondary resources for researching policy issues. Be specific.

Support your response using the Learning Resources and other scholarly resources.


Dabney, L. (2008). Citators: Past, present and future. Legal Reference Services Quarterly, 27(2-3), 165–190. doi:10.1080/02703190802365671. Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.


Cornell University Law School: LLI/Legal Information Institute

FindLaw: Federal Courts of Appeals

FindLaw for Legal Professionals

FindLaw: United States Supreme Court Opinions

Optional Resources


United States Courts: Court Locator


Shepardizing – Make Sure You Cite Good Law

Shepardizing Cases – Understanding Appellate History

Shepardize a Recent Case to Expand Your Research

Shepardizing Statutes

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