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The 7th 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 7th Circuit the federal district court jurisdictions include three in Illinois and two each in Indiana and Wisconsin.
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 7th Circuit appeals court has jurisdiction over the seven district courts within its boundaries. Cases that are decided by one of the federal district courts and appealed to the 7th 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.
Statistics show that the Supreme Court receives a small portion of its caseload from the 7th Circuit, recently taking two cases to review but not acting on either. Most other U.S. Circuit courts experience about a 50 percent reversal rate among cases reviewed by the Supreme Court. In the last five years the 7th Circuit has begun each session with about 1,800 cases on its docket and nearly 3,000 more are filed each year. Of those, nearly 3,000 are terminated and each judge writes about 130 decisions per year.
In November 2015, the 7th Circuit struck a blow against state-level laws that restricted access to abortions, called TRAP laws. Designed to legislate abortion clinics out of business, the restrictions often attempted to impose mandatory waiting periods, forced ultrasounds, and limitations on abortion providers, including requiring admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Wisconsin had attempted to impose those restrictions but a district court and later the 7th Circuit Court threw them out as unjustified and not necessary for health care reasons. In 2016 the Supreme Court concurred, striking down Texas TRAP laws and declaring them unconstitutional.
An illegal alien caused the 7th Circuit to take a close look at Second Amendment-protected rights, resulting in a broadened interpretation of the statute. In 2013 a citizen of Mexico was found in possession of ammunition, which a court determined was illegal. When the man appealed, the 7th Circuit Court upheld the Wisconsin district court decision that he was in violation of the law, but the justices’ opinion created a stir. The case caused the 7th Circuit justices to consider a 2008 decision, District of Columbia vs. Heller, and opined that even illegal aliens have some rights under the Second Amendment of the Constitution.