Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals

The 10th Circuit is a federal - level court of appeals based in Denver, Colorado. It is comprised of the districts in Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. There are 12 judges assigned to the court.

The 10th Circuit is a regional federal appeals court that is beneath the U.S. Supreme Court in the judicial branch of government. In addition to the 12 regional appellate courts to which it belongs there is one Federal Circuit Court of Appeals that hears certain cases involving trade, patents, and similar issues. As they derive their authority from the Constitution, federal judges are designated Title III; they are named by the President, their appointments ratified by Congress and judges may sit on the court for life. Magistrate judges assist the circuit judges but their terms may vary.

In federal appeals courts, judges hear cases and render decisions as the jury system is not used.

At the federal level the circuit or appellate courts have jurisdiction over the 94 U.S. District Courts that are within their regions. In the 10th Circuit the federal district court jurisdictions include three districts in Oklahoma, and one each in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Kansas, and Utah. Prior to 1929 the districts had been part of the 8th Circuit Court based in St. Louis, Missouri but were separated when the population increased.

Tenth Circuit Court Process

Cases heard in federal district court are both civil and criminal, whether deciding guilt or innocence on felony charges, those in which penalties exceed $75,000, or “diversity” cases involving residents from more than one state or country (such as class action lawsuits). A local “rule” requires civil litigants to attempt to resolve their dispute through mediation prior to going to trial. Litigants may also decide to waive a jury trial and have the case decided solely by a judge. If a party disagrees with a district court decision he may appeal it to the circuit court with jurisdiction.

The 10th Circuit appeals court has jurisdiction over the eight district courts within its boundaries. Cases that are decided by one of the federal district courts and appealed to the 10th Circuit may go to the U.S. Supreme Court if the Supreme Court justices seek it out or if a party to the case successfully petitions the Supreme Court to review the circuit court’s decision.

Tenth Circuit Court Caseload

Records show that the Supreme Court reviews a small portion of cases from the 10th Circuit, about four in a recent year. Of those the court overturned three, affirming one, an above-average number of reversals. Recent records reveal that the 10th Circuit begins each session with about 3,000 cases and receives about 2,300 more each year (although totals are dropping). Of those, nearly 2,000 are terminated and each judge writes about 100 decisions per year.

Tenth Circuit Court Notable Decisions

During a tumultuous time for gay civil rights, the 10th Circuit Court played a key role in the same-sex marriage debate. Almost exactly a year before the U.S. Supreme Court declared marriage to be a right under the Constitution regardless of gender, the 10th Circuit struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, which created a rule for other districts within the court’s jurisdiction. A similar case had been pending in Oklahoma. At the time, Utah had both a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and a law that did not allow the state to recognize same-sex marriages from other states or nations. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Utah’s appeal of the 10th Circuit decision, effectively ending the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

In a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the 10th Circuit decided in 2013 that the Hobby Lobby business with 21,000 employees, constituted an individual and did not need to abide by federal regulations to provide contraceptive care to women through its health insurance. This interpretation of the religious liberties spelled out in the Constitution surprised many but the Supreme Court affirmed the decision, calling the company “closely held” by a religious owner who clearly extended his personal beliefs to the employees on its rolls. Critics of the rulings expressed concern for the precedent of allowing corporations to opt out of federal laws.