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The Federal Courts of Appeals are the intermediate appellate courts of the U.S. federal court system.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as immigration law, those cases involving patent laws and cases decided by the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims.

The U.S. Courts of Appeals were the first federal courts designed exclusively to hear cases on appeal from trial courts. A Court of appeals decides appeals from the district courts within its federal judicial circuit and from other designated federal courts and administrative agencies.

The act of 1891, also known as Circuit Courts of Appeals Act or the Evarts Act for its primary sponsor, Senator William M. Evarts, created the Courts of Appeals, and reassigned the jurisdiction of most routine appeals from the district and circuit courts to these appellate courts. The Act limited the categories of cases that could be routinely appealed to the Supreme Court.

It established nine Courts of Appeals, one for each judicial circuit and gave the U.S. Courts of Appeals jurisdiction over the great majority of appeals from the U.S. district courts and the U.S. circuit courts.

In recent years Congress has established commissions to examine possible changes in the structure of the Courts of Appeals. In 1998, the Commission on Structural Alternatives for the Federal Courts of Appeals reported on proposals to divide the Ninth Circuit. Finally, it was preserved but the circuit’s Court of Appeals was divided into regional divisions. In the Judicial Code of 1948, Congress changed the title of the federal appellate courts to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the respective Circuit.

The thirteen Appellate Courts today have a total of 179 judges, with lifetime tenure. The number of judges that the U.S. Congress has authorized for each circuit is set forth by law in 28 U.S.C. section § 44, while the places where those judges must regularly sit to hear appeals are prescribed in 28 U.S.C. section § 48.

These judges are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate. There are other kind of tribunals, such as the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which hears appeals in court-martial cases, and the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which reviews final decisions by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Most decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) or the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) can be appealed to either a Federal District Court or a Federal Court of Appeals.

When a person has used up all the administrative remedies, and has an AAO denial decision, a Federal District Court challenge is the last solution, a doctrine known as “exhaustion of administrative remedies”.

This doctrine means that a party has to pursue all the available administrative remedies before seeking relief from a Federal Court.

The BIA may affirm, reverse, or remand the decision of an Immigration Judge. However, it is possible to appeal the BIA ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals. When a case is appealed in Federal Court, the burden of proof for the appellant is very high.

A Federal Court will reverse an administrative decision only when it was arbitrary, capricious, or not otherwise in accordance to the law.

This means that, as a general rule, a Federal Court will not second-guess the interpretation of the law provided by an administrative agency, unless that interpretation is impermissible or implausible. The only exception to this rule is in Naturalization cases.

The Federal Courts of Appeals are considered among the most powerful and influential courts in the United States and have strong policy influence on U.S. law. Considered that the U.S. Supreme Court chooses to review less than 1% of the more than 10,000 cases filed with it annually, the United States Courts of Appeals are the final arbiter on most federal cases. Decisions of the United States Courts of Appeals have been published by the private company West Publishing in the Federal Reporter series since the courts were established.


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