This is the ceremonial courtroom. Most federal courthouses have a ceremonial courtroom. In addition to hearing trials, these rooms serve a variety of functions. It is usually in the ceremonial courtroom, for example, that the swearing in of new judges takes place. It is also in the ceremonial courtroom where members of the court usually meet to have their official photograph taken and where photographs of some judges are hung.
Perhaps one of the most interesting uses of the ceremonial courtroom is its use in naturalization ceremonies. Because these ceremonies can draw large crowds, and because the ceremonial courtrooms often are the largest courtrooms in the building, they tend to be selected for these occasions. Usually once a month, people who have completed the legal requirements for citizenship—that is, residency in the United States for a certain number of years, passing the U.S. Citizenship test, being approved for naturalization by the INS, and so on—meet, with their families and friends in attendance, in this room to be sworn in as new citizens. These naturalization ceremonies take a variety of forms and often involve the participation of various civic groups. By law, however, all new citizens must take the oath of citizenship. This oath is administered by the presiding federal judge.
This is the courtroom of Judge [name]. Each federal district court judge is usually assigned a courtroom. Courtrooms vary from courthouse to courthouse (and sometimes even within courthouses), but they usually all have some form of the following organization. Most prominent in the courtroom is the judge's bench. It is from here that judges preside over the various legal disputes that are brought before them. Usually off to one side of the bench is the witness stand. It is from here that witnesses give testimony during hearings and trials. They are sworn in by one of the U.S. Marshals assigned to keep order in the courtroom. In front of the judge is usually the court stenographer, who keeps a written record of the proceedings, and other people that serve in administrative capacities during legal proceedings.
There are usually two tables in the courtroom, one for the plaintiffs/prosecutors and one for the defendants. During a trial, the plaintiff usually sits at the table that is nearest to the jury while the defendant sits at the remaining table. Normally, all parties to a legal dispute are represented by legal counsel who are also present. Near the plaintiff's table is the jury box. During both civil and criminal trials, members of the jury listen as the lawyers for both sides present their cases and then decide the facts of the case--that is, which party is telling the truth. Behind the tables where the lawyers sit is seating for members of the public who wish to watch a case. Almost all judicial proceedings are open to the public as long as there is room in the courtroom.
In addition to the judge, lawyers, jury, stenographer, and marshals, many other people work behind the scenes to ensure that the courts function properly. Interpreters, for example, may be called on in cases where a party to a suit does not speak English. Likewise, people who rarely step foot inside the courtroom itself, like those in the clerk's office or court administrators, are responsible for seeing to it that cases, and all relevant documents relating to them, are properly filed and delivered to the appropriate judge. To run efficiently, our judicial system relies on many people who have chosen careers in the courts.
A Judge's Chambers
This is the chambers of judge [name]. The chambers is the judge's office and it is where the judge works when he/she is not in the courtroom. Judges have a supporting staff, which they are allowed to hire once they are installed in office. Usually, this staff consists of a secretary and, at the district court level, two law clerks. Depending on the judge, law clerks may be hired as frequently as every year, and some may be hired as career clerks. Clerks hired from term to term often are recent law school graduates and usually assist the judge with legal research.
Each judge sets up his/her chambers differently. Normally, each chambers has an area for the law clerks and another room for the judge. Although each judge has access to the court law library, many judges opt to have a set of law books for their chambers.
While most people associate judges with the courtroom, when they are not there, they usually are very busy with legal work. Tasks that occur in chambers, outside of the public's view, include, among other things, signing warrants, performing legal research, and writing opinions in particular cases.
The judges chambers also serves to remind us that the judicial system in the United States is very unique, because judges are independent of the other branches of the federal government. They are appointed for life by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Furthermore, their salaries cannot be diminished once they are in office. These provisions are established by Article III of the Constitution to ensure that the Judiciary is not improperly influenced by any of the other branches of government (especially because judges may rule on issues concerning those branches). In essence, once they take the bench, judges are answerable only to the rule of law.
A Jury Deliberation Room
This is the jury deliberation room. It is the room in which the jurors hearing a particular legal case meet to determine which party is telling the truth. No one except the members of the jury are allowed in this room during deliberations. A jury's decision can have a very dramatic impact on the lives of those involved in a particular case. For example, in a civil case, the jury may find that someone owes another person money and must pay it. In a criminal case, the jury may find a defendant guilty, and the defendant may then be sentenced to prison. In the federal court system, a criminal jury comprises 12 jurors; a civil jury may comprise as few as 6.
The jury plays an important role in our judicial system. The jury is the one institution that allows citizens to participate directly in the judicial process. While the judge determines the law and oversees the judicial process, it is the jury that determines the facts of a particular case. Ultimately, the jury helps to ensure citizens' participation in the judicial process and serves as another check on the government. The qualifications for jury service are as follows:
- U.S. citizen.
- At least 18 years of age.
- Reside in the judicial jurisdiction for one year.
- Adequate proficiency in English.
- No disqualifying mental or physical condition.
- Not currently subject to felony charges.
- Never convicted of a felony (unless civil rights have been legally restored).
Potential jurors are selected randomly, primarily, from voter registration and driver license lists. The potential jurors complete questionnaires to help determine whether they are qualified to serve on a jury. After reviewing the questionnaires, the court randomly selects individuals to be summoned to appear for jury duty. The selection methods help ensure that jurors represent a cross section of the community without regard to race, gender, national origin, age, or political affiliation. Citizens selected for jury duty receive a summons to appear in court on a particular day. Failure to do so can result in their arrest. During a process known as voir dire, the judge and the attorneys for both sides of a case ask questions of the potential jurors. The judge makes the final decisions as to who sits on the jury.
The Law Library
This is the law library. It is here that judges, their law clerks, and members of the bar of this court (those attorneys who are authorized to practice before this court) perform legal research. There are a variety of legal texts in this library. They include statutes (Acts of Congress and state legislatures), court decisions, law reviews, and even scholarly treatises on various legal issues. While the law libraries of federal courts contain materials on federal laws and court decisions, they also contain materials on their district's state laws, and often the laws of other states as well.
The law library reminds us of the rule of law in this country. All of the laws that affect our lives, along with the interpretations that the courts have given to them, are recorded in the books contained in this library. The purpose of this is to ensure that, unlike in some other countries, our freedoms and liberties are not at the arbitrary mercy of the government.