There are two preliminary steps to take:
Primary Mandatory Authority -- if you have background on your topic -- seek out research notes in Constitutions, Court Opinions, Statutes, and Regulations.
Secondary Authority -- helps generate search terms and what authority you should research -- provide commentary on and analysis of the law.
Primary Persuasive Authority -- rarely used to start research projects.
Types of Authority
The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) acts as a non-profit provider of many services to the courts including: research studies, consulting, a variety of educational programs, an extensive web database of information on court administration, the largest library of materials on court administration in the world, and continued assistance in the improvement of inter-branch relations through its lobbying and advocacy services.
The following page of the NCSC provides judicial branch links for each state, focusing on the administrative office of the courts, the court of last resort, any intermediate appellate courts, and each trial court level:
Pennsylvania District Courts
|Western District||Middle District||Eastern District|
Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Mercer, Potter, Somerset, Venango, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland
Adams, Berks, Bradford, Centre, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Wyoming, York
Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Wayne
What's the Difference Between State and Federal Courts?
Pennsylvania state courts decide cases involving child custody matters, divorce, most criminal cases, real estate issues, juvenile issues, contract disputes, traffic violations, personal injury issues, and inheritance matters, to name a few. These courts can also hear cases that are appeals from state or local agencies. For example, an appeal from a local zoning decision would normally go to the local Common Pleas Court.
But, there are certain categories of legal disputes that are resolved in federal courts. Federal courts may hear cases that involve the U.S. Constitution, federal law, the United States government, or controversies between states or between the U.S. government and foreign governments. In addition, they may hear “diversity of citizenship” cases – cases between citizens of different states (for example, between a citizen of Pennsylvania and a citizen of New York), or between a citizen of a state and a non-U.S. citizen. Note that diversity of citizenship cases must involve claims that exceed $75,000.
The federal courts also hear appeals from federal agencies. For example, an appeal from a denial of social security benefits by the Social Security Administration, would go to the federal courts, once all administrative appeals are finished.
Federal district courts in Pennsylvania are: the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.