Although there are both federal and state judicial branches with separate powers; unless specified, the judicial branch typically refers to one of three branches in the U.S. Government. The three branches work together to "check and balance" each others' power. The judicial branch is a check on the executive and legislative branches of government. According to the White House, the federal judicial branch has sole power to interpret the U.S. Constitution and federal law.
The judicial branch on the federal level is a constitutional requirement under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, according to the White House. Those in the federal judiciary receive an appointment by the President, but only after a confirmation hearing and vote of approval by the U.S. Senate. In this way, even an appointment to the judicial branch is under the system of checks and balances.
Under the judicial branch, the Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals and U.S. District Courts serve as the federal court system. These courts hear cases and controversies that include federal questions and constitutional quandary. Federal courts also receive select cases from state courts, when the subject matter falls under specific federal jurisdiction, such as constitutional violations. Federal bankruptcy and special courts hear cases related to the armed forces, tax issues and international matters, according to the United States Courts.
State judicial branches are under the constitutional guise of each individual state, according to the United States Courts. States have a Supreme Court and lower courts. State courts hear civil and criminal cases and determine sentences and damages, according to the West Virginia State Legislature. These cases include family law, estate planning and crimes that occur at the local and state level. The selection of judicial officials varies by state.