JOUR 3633 Media Law

Research guide to accompany JOUR 3633 Media Law, covering constitutional guarantees, statutory laws and court cases applicable to mass communications.


Generally the federal and state courts in the United States are divided into three main parts:

  • Trial Courts
  • Intermediate Appellate Courts
  • Final Appellate Courts

Federal Courts:  the District Courts are the trial courts, where the action is initially filed; the Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court; and the Supreme Court is the final appellate court.

  • District Courts: are divided into 94 judicial districts.There is at least one district in each state, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.There are also district courts in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. There are also two specialized courts: the Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
  • Court of Appeals: are divided into 12 regional circuits, each encompassing specific judicial districts.The Court of Appeals decisions are binding on the district courts within its circuit.There is also a Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which hears appeals from the specialized district level courts (Court of Int’l Trade and U.S. Court of Federal Claims), as well as certain specialized cases, such as patent cases.
  • Supreme Court: the Supreme Court hears a limited number of cases, at its discretion, which generally involve important questions of federal law. The decisions of the Supreme Court are binding on all federal courts, and are binding on state courts regarding issues of the Constitution and federal law. A case from a state's highest court may be appealed to the Supreme Court if there is a federal legal question involved.

State Courts: also generally have trial courts, intermediate appellate courts, and an appellate court of last resort. Each state uses its own terminology for naming its courts. In Arkansas:

  • District Courts: There are 58 local district courts and 26 state district courts who handle minor civil and criminal cases, small claims, and traffic violations.
  • Circuit Courts: There are 28 circuit courts who handle criminal, civil, domestic relations, probate, and juvenile cases.
  • Court of Appeals: 12 judges hear cases on appeal from the lower courts.
  • Supreme Court: 7 justices.

U.S Supreme Court Cases: Supreme Court opinions are published in 3 different case law reporters: United States Reports (the official reporter) - "U.S.", Supreme Court Reporter (West) - "S. Ct.", and Lawyers' Edition (Lexis) - "L. Ed.". Sample citation for Brown v. Board of Ed. of Topeka: 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873.