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Minnesota State Law Library

Federal Law and Courts

This guide is intended to provide an overview of the federal judicial system for those involved in or wanting to file a case in federal court.

Federal Court v. State Court

Types of Cases Heard

The Federal Court System The State Court System
  • Cases that deal with the constitutionality of a law; 
  • Cases involving the laws and treaties of the U.S.;
  • Cases involving ambassadors and public ministers; 
  • Disputes between two or more states; 
  • Admiralty law;
  • Bankruptcy; and 
  • Habeas corpus issues.
  • Most criminal cases, probate (involving wills and estates)
  • Most contract cases, tort cases (personal injuries), family law (marriages, divorces, adoptions), etc. 

State courts are the final arbiters of state laws and constitutions. Their interpretation of federal law or the U.S. Constitution may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court may choose to hear or not to hear such cases. 

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In our positions as librarians, not lawyers, we can suggest resources but cannot give legal advice (such as which form to file) or legal opinions (such as how a statute might apply to particular facts). To do so could be considered the unauthorized practice of law. Even though we try to suggest materials that will be of help, more research is often required to find a complete and correct answer. For many questions, the best answer may be to consult an attorney.