Research Guide</Center>

Research Guide

Federal Court Rules: Resources and Research Tips

New England Law Library
Helen Litwack, Reference Librarian
September 2003

Court rules govern the conduct of business before courts. They dictate how trials are conducted from commencement of an action through motions for post-judgment relief.

Federal rules include: Federal Rules of Evidence, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, rules of the Supreme Court of the United States, Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, and Local Rules for Circuit Courts of Appeal and United States District Courts. Current rules in effect are at the official website of the U.S. Judiciary

There are also federal rules governing procedure in specialized courts, such as U.S. Court of Federal Claims, U.S. Court of International Trade, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals, Alien Terrorist Removal Court, Bankruptcy Courts (specialized U.S. District Courts), and the U.S. Tax Court.

Many state courts' rules of civil, criminal and/or evidence procedure are patterned after federal rules. Massachusetts, however, as not adopted evidence rules based on the Federal Rules of Evidence.

By convention, the term "regulation" usually refers to substantive rules promulgated by administrative agencies in the executive, rather than the judicial, branch of government.

Enabling legislation: the Judicial Code
The United States Constitution, in Articles 1-3, created the judiciary branch and defined its powers. Congress delegated rule-making authority to courts. 28 U.S.C.A. 2072-2075 (2000).

District Courts may promulgate local court rules, generally after public notice and comment. Emergency rules may be created with after-the-fact notice and comment. The United States Supreme Court promulgates rules of general applicability for District Courts and Courts of Appeal. The Judicial Conference may appoint advisory committees, comprised of attorneys, judges and scholars, who submit rules to the Conference's Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure. Proposed rules are published in the Federal Register to initiate a 6-month public comment period. Title 28 of the U.S. Code created oversight of rule promulgation: (1) a judicial council for District Courts (one for each circuit); (2) a single Judicial Conference for other federal courts. Meetings of the Judicial Conference are usually public. The Judicial Conference may forward rules to the Supreme Court, which may order their promulgation. Rules must be submitted to Congress by May 1 of the year created and automatically take effect on December 1 of that year unless Congress acts to the contrary. See The Rulemaking Process: A Summary for the Bench and Bar, by Leonidas Ralph Mecham, Director, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.