Federal court jurisdiction is limited to certain kinds of cases listed in the Constitution. For the most part, federal courts only hear cases in which the United States is a party, cases involving violations of the Constitution or federal law, crimes on federal land, and bankruptcy cases. Federal courts also hear cases based on state laws that involve parties from different states.

While federal courts hear fewer cases than the state courts, the cases they do hear tend to be of national importance because of the federal laws they enforce and the federal rights they protect.