Although the U.S. Supreme Court gets a lot of attention, the majority of cases don’t make it to the highest court. District courts and courts of appeals, which sit below the Supreme Court, rule on the majority of cases in the federal courts. Annually, the Supreme Court hears about 70 cases; the courts of appeals handle about 50,000 cases; and district courts handle over 500,000 cases.
Litigants have a right to appeal decisions of the district court to the courts of appeals, but the Supreme Court does not have to take a case on appeal. In most cases, the courts of appeals are the last line of defense in making decisions about our basic rights.
Federal judges on the district courts and courts of appeal have enormous power. They can decide cases about the right to abortion; birth control access; and discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, or race; and more.
When federal judges are hostile to such rights, their rulings can be dangerous.