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The 11th Circuit court of appeals, a federal-level court based in Atlanta, Georgia, serves nine districts comprising all of Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. It is one of the newest of the country’s federal courts of appeals as it was created in 1981 with the division of the 5th Circuit court, based in New Orleans. Twelve judges sit on the 11th Circuit court.
The judges are referred to as Title III because their positions were created by that portion of the Constitution. Federal judges are appointed by the President, approved by Congress and may occupy their position on the court for life. Magistrate judges assist the circuit judges but their terms may vary.
In addition to the 12 regional appellate courts to which the 11th Circuit court belongs there is one Federal Circuit Court of Appeals that hears certain cases involving trade, patents, and similar issues. 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. The 11th Circuit has nine such U.S. district courts, three each in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Cases that are decided by one of the federal district courts and appealed to the 11th 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.
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). Litigants may 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.
Statistics for the 11th Circuit Court show over 6,000 cases filed annually for the past decade. About 3,000 cases continue pending at the end of each term. In the most recent data provided, the Supreme Court reviewed three of the 11th Circuit’s decisions and reversed all of them. It was the only Circuit court before the Supreme Court that experienced a 100 percent remand or reversal of its judgements. To be fair, only three of the 11th Circuits cases were reviewed by the Supreme Court, but the next-highest rate of remand was 80 percent.
A case of interest before the court was Alabama’s 2011 anti-illegal immigration law, called House Bill 56 or the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. The 11th Circuit blocked many of the law’s provisions, saying they were superceded by federal immigration laws, including a citizenship check and immigration status information collection on those attending public schools, criminalization of an alien’s attempt to secure employment in Alabama, and criminalizing the act of bringing illegal aliens into the state to work. The State of Alabama settled with those who protested the requirements of the law in 2013.
In 2010 the court dismissed a class action suit against DirecTV, saying that the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 required at least one party in such a suit to qualify for the $75,000 in damages that is criteria for a federal court-level case. But later that year the court reversed its decision, essentially admitting the justices had erred in their interpretation of the law.