Federal Jurisdiction in United States

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, meaning they can only hear cases authorized by the United States Constitution or federal statutes. The federal district court is the starting point for any case arising under federal statutes, the Constitution, or treaties.

Jurisdiction of the Federal Judiciary:-

The powers of the Federal Government being delegated they are limited. The jurisdiction of the federal judiciary, accordingly, extends over only those classes of cases as enumerated or implied in the Constitution. The State Courts have jurisdiction over all others.

1. Cases under Constitution Laws and Treaties:-

Article Three section Two of the Constitution provides :

The judicial power of the United State shall extend to all cases, in law and equity arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made under their authority.

It means that only cases of a Justifiable character can core before the Federal Courts. It cannot decide questions executive or legislative in character unless such a question involves the interpretation of the Federal Constitution, or a federal law, or a treaty in which the United States is a party. Anyone who claims that an executive action or legislative Act encroaches upon his rights guaranteed to him by the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States, he can bring an action against the appropriate authority for the restoration of his rights.

The situation is well summed up in this statement of the Supreme. Court The jurisdiction of the courts of the United States is properly commensurate with every right and duty created, declared, ox necessarily inspired by and under the Constitution and laws of the United States.

But the right must be a substantial and not merely an incidental one in order to warrant its assertion in the Federal Courts. It must appear on the record that the suit is one which docs really and substantially involve a dispute or controversy as to a right which depends on the construction of the Constitution or some law or treaty of the United States, before jurisdiction can be maintained.

Congress and the President cannot, therefore, ask the Justices of the Supreme Court to express themselves on the constitutionality of a proposed legislation. The Court is not an advisory body and will not give advisory opinions. It will render its decision only as and when a real dispute is presented to it for decision. Consequently, there must be a party of interest to challenge the constitutionality of law in to to or in part.

Nor has, Congress powers to assign the Judiciary any duties other than judicial. This was definitely established in the Hayburn case. Congress in this instance had instructed Circuit Judges to function as pension Commissioners. The Judges individually refused and the Supreme Court upheld their action.

2. Cases Affecting Ambassadors and Others:-

In the second place federal jurisdiction extends to all cases affecting diplomats accredited to the United States. But according to the well accepted principle of International Law diplomatic agents of foreign States are immune from prosecution in the court of the country to which they are accredited. The provision in the Constitution extending federal jurisdiction to all cases affecting diplomats is intended to check the State Courts from the infringement of International Law. If a diplomatic agent commits an offense, his recall may be requested or he may be even expelled, but so long as he remains a duly accredited diplomat his immunity from legal process is guaranteed.

3. Admiralty Cases:-

Admiralty and maritime cases relate to American vessels on the high seas or in the navigable waters of the United States and they embrace all cases arising from disputes on freight charges, wages of the seamen, damages due to collision and marine insurance. In time of war, it covers cases relating to prize vessels Captured at sea, The reason for giving admiralty jurisdiction to Federal Courts was twofold. In the first place, admiralty is a distinct branch of jurisprudence and it differs in substance and procedure from the common law and equity applied in ordinary courts of law. Secondly; foreign commerce is a federal subject and the framers of the Constitution thought it best to vest admiralty and maritime jurisdiction in the Federal Courts.

4. Cases Relating to U.S. or States:-

The jurisdiction of the Federal Courts extends to all disputes to which United States in one of the parties, or when the dispute is between a State and a citizen of another State. As originally provided in Article Three, Section Two of the Constitution, suits could be brought before Federal Courts against a State by citizens of other States, or by citizens of foreign countries. Soon after the Constitution went into effect a citizen of South Carolina named Chisholm, sued the State of Georgia (1793) for the recovery of a debt. The Supreme Court entertained the suit and ruled that such suits could be maintained.

This decision caused a widespread popular indignation as it had been openly asserted, when the Constitution was before the States for their ratification, that no State could be sued by an individual without its own consent. The Government of Georgia felt that it was derogatory to the dignity of a sovereign State, A demand was, accordingly, made that the Constitution be suitably amended so as to prevent such suits in future.

As a result of this demand the Eleventh Amendment was adopted in 1795, which expressly forbids Federal courts to take cognizance of any suit brought against a State by a citizen of another State, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign State. Such suits can only be brought in the courts of the State concerned as permitted by law. If there is no legal authorization courts cannot entertain such suits. But a State can be sued in Federal Courts when the other party is the United States, or another State of the Union or a foreign State.

5. Cases between Citizens of Different States:-

Finally, the judicial power of the Federal Courts extends to all cases between citizens of different States, between citizens of the same State claiming lands under grants of different States and between a State, or the citizens thereof, and foreign States, citizens or subjects. It means that disputes between foreigners and citizens of the foreign States and between citizens of different States can be brought before the Federal Courts. For purposes of this provision corporation or Company is a citizen of the State in which it was incorporated.

Exclusive Concurrent Jurisdiction:-

Although the cases mentioned above may come before Federal Courts, the Constitution does not insist that Federal Courts must assume exclusive jurisdiction in all such cases. The Constitution gives the Federal Courts no exclusive jurisdiction whatsoever. Congress is free to distribute jurisdiction over them as it pleases and, indeed, it may completely divest Federal Courts of jurisdiction in some instances.

As matters stand, Federal Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over:

  1. All cases involving crimes against laws of the United States.
  2. All suits for penalties brought under laws of the United States, all suits under admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, or under patent and copyright laws.
  3. All bankruptcy proceedings.
  4. All civil actions in which the United States or a State is a party, except between a State and its own citizen.
  5. All suits and proceedings brought against ambassadors, others possessing diplomatic immunity, and foreign consuls.

Over practically ail other-kinds of cases to which the federal judicial power extends, Federal and State Courts have concurrent jurisdiction. That is to say, in all such cases, which of necessity are always civil, and involve amounts of $ 3,000 or more, the plaintiff has the choice to commence it in a Federal court or, in the Courts of a State to which he belongs, or in the Courts of a State where the defendant resides. The defendant is, however, given the privilege of having the case removed to a Federal Court if it has been instituted in a state Court provided the request is made before the latter has reached a decision.

Federal Courts are denied jurisdiction over cases involving parties with diverse citizenship and are for amounts less than $ 3,000. These cases must be tried in State Courts, if at all.

Federal Court Writs:-

In the exercise of national judicial power granted by the Constitution, the Federal Courts have the authority to use the writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, injunction and certiorari.

Types of Federal Courts:-

There are two general types of courts; Constitutional and Legislative.

Constitutional Courts:-

Constitutional Courts are established under the authority of Article III to exercise the Judicial power of the United States. They consist of the Supreme Court, Federal Courts of Appeal, and District Courts. The Constitution provides only for the Supreme Court and empowers Congress to ordain and establish the inferior courts. The establishment of inferior courts is, therefore, not mandatory. They have been created and their jurisdiction is defined by the statutes of Congress starting with the Judiciary Act of 1789. The Congress can, thus, at will abolish the inferior courts, but not the Supreme Court.

Legislative Courts:-

Legislative courts are created by Congress and their authority is outside of Article III. They do not exercise the judicial powers of the United States, but are special courts created to aid the administration of laws enacted by Congress in pursuance of powers delegated to it or implied in such powers. For example, Article I, Section 8 grants to Congress the power to impose and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises. In order to decide disputes about the valuation of goods and subject to import duties, Congress established the United States Customs Court, composed of nine Judges.

Similarly, Congress is given rower to govern territories and has created territorial court systems under that authority. Congress can set-rules in regard to patents and has created the United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals which handles appeals from the decisions of the United States Patent Office, the Customs Court and Tariff Commission. There is also a civilian court of Military Appeals to hear appeals from military courts martial.

All these are courts and they follow a judicial procedure. But they have been created under the Congressional power and not under the Judicial Article of the Constitution. The difference between the Constitutional and Legislative Courts, thus, lies in the source of their respective authority and the nature of the cases over which they have jurisdiction.

Article II mentions the types of cases and controversies to which the federal judicial power extends and these must all come before constitutional Courts. Legislative Courts, on the other hand, carry into execution such powers as those of regulating inter-state commerce, spending public finds, laying and collecting import duties and governing territories.

Yet another difference may be marked between the two, All Judges in the Constitutional Courts are appointed by the President with the -advice and consent of the Senate and they hold office during good behavior. They can be removed from office only by impeachment. Judges in Legislative Courts are similarly appointed, but almost always they serve for fixed terms and can be removed by methods other than impeachment.

In spite of these differences, the Legislative Courts are tied into the regular Federal judicial machinery. Appeals may be taken from their decisions to specified courts of the regular system, usually to Federal Court of Appeals.

In the District of Columbia, Congress has set up a complete system of local courts including a Municipal Court. The District has also a U.S. District Court and a U.S. Court of Appeals. These are based partly on Article III and partly on Articles 1 s.s cl. 17, which authorizes Congress to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over the seat of Government of the United States.

Constitutional Courts:-

Supreme Court:-

At the apex is the Supreme Court and it is the creation of the Constitution and specifically mentioned in Article Three, Section one. It was first organized under the Judiciary Act of 1789. with the Chief Justice and five associate Justices. Its membership has, however, varied and the present strengthen of a Chief Justice and eight associated Justices was fixed in 1869 where it has remained ever since. The Court held its first two terms in Wall Street in New York City. Its next two terms were held at Philadelphia and thereafter it met at Washington.

Justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Constitution does not prescribe any qualifications hence the President may appoint anyone for whom Senatorial confirmation can be obtained. Terms of Federal Judges are for life or during good behavior and they are removable by impeachment only. After reaching the age of seventy they may retire or resign and receive full salary, provided they have served for ten years or more. Or they may retire at sixty-five with fifteen years of service, at full pay. If they retire, and not resign, they are still Federal Judges and can be given an assignment. Their salaries are fixed by an Act of Congress, and while they can be raised at any time no diminution can be made during tie tenure of office of any judge.

The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is both original and appellate. The original jurisdiction, however, is extremely limited and an aver age of only four or five cases come before the court each year for original trial. The Constitution Opens the court to such trials when

  1. A foreign ambassador, minister or consul, or
  2. One of the States is a party.

This jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is the grant of the Constitution itself and the Supreme Court has decided, in the famous, Marbury v. Madison that Congress can neither, increase nor reduce the jurisdiction of the court in this respect. Legislative action, however, hag granted concurrent trial power to the District Courts in some of these cases.

Under the present Judicial Code the following original cases may be brought to the Supreme Court:

  1. Casey against foreign ambassadors and ministers and
  2. Cases between one of the States and the United States, a foreign State or another one op the States.

In all other cases the Supreme Court hag appellate jurisdiction both as to law and facts with such exceptions and under such regulations as Congress shall make. In accordance with this provision, Congress has defined in-detail the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. At present, cases come to it from State Courts; Federal Courts of Appeal. and in a few instances, Federal District Courts. The expectation is that the Supreme Court should not devote its time upon mere settlement of law suits in the manner of an ordinary law court, but rather upon constitutional. interpretation and policy, especially in economic and social! fields, appeals lacking in this higher interest are likely to encounter no very warm reception.

There are, thus, two-general sources from which cases may reach the Supreme Court on appeals:-

(a) Cases from the highest State Courts where a federal question is presented, namely, when the State Court has held that a federal law, treaty, or executive action violates the Constitution of the United States or has held that the flaw enacted by the State or the State action is valid under the Constitution and when that finding of the State Court is challenged. The power of the Supreme Court to review laws is based upon the constitutional provision that the laws made by, Congress and treaties concluded by the Federal Government are supreme law of the land and; consequently, supersede the Constitutions and laws enacted by the State Legislatures. Some of the Court’s greatest decisions have been rendered in such cases, where an appeal has been taken to if when a State Court has denied a claim based upon an alleged federal right.

(b) Cases from the lower Federal Courts, chiefly from the Courts of Appeal. But the cases coming to the Supreme Court on this count are insignificant, only one in thirty cases, since final determination had been vested by law in these courts in many types of cases between private individuals. But when a litigant claims that a constitutional right has been denied to him, it is a case for the Supreme Court.

Two special proceedings may, also, be noted. The Supreme Court may require a Court of Appeal to transmit a case to it, either before or after decision, when, on a petition of a party to the suit, the Court concludes that the case is of such significance as to make decision by the highest court desirable. A Court of Appeal may also take the initiative of certifying to the Supreme Court questions or propositions of law involved in a case that it requires instructions from a superior court to enable it to make a proper decision. The Supreme Court may, on such A reference, merely answer the question or it may require that the whole case be submitted to it for final decision.

Cases in a few instances may go directly from a District Court to the Supreme Court. If a District Court holds a Federal law to be unconstitutional in a case in which the United States is a party or in a case between two private parties in which the United States has been made a party by intervention direct appeal goes to the Supreme Court. The Judiciary Act of 1937 permits such direct appeals to the Supreme Court. An occasional case also goes up from one of the special courts.

The Supreme Court meets on the second Monday in October for a session which generally extends through to June. Special session may be called by the Chief Justice when the Court is adjourned, but the occasion must be of unusual urgency and importance. Six Justices constitute a quorum no matter, whether the Chief Justice is present or not. When a case has been argued, the court holds a conference where the Justices discuss their views and, then, vote. The Chief Justice usually states his opinion first and other Justices follow him in order of their seniority.

The meeting culminates with a vote conducted by the Chief Justice who calls upon his associates in reverse order according to the dates of their commission and himself voting last. If the Chief Justice belongs to the majority opinion, he may request one of his associates to prepare the opinion of the Court, or he may prepare it himself, after which it is scrutinized by the Court at a second conference and approved. Any member of the Court who disagrees with the majority may file a dissenting Opinion, a right frequently taken advantage of the concurrence of at least five of the nine Judges is necessary to the validity of a decision and, as a matter of fact, many important decisions have been rendered by a bare majority of the Court, that is 5 to 4.

Federal Courts of Appeal:-

Next below the Supreme Court are Federal Courts of Appeal, known before 1948 as the Circuit Courts of Appeal, 12 in all, one for each of the eleven judicial circuits in which the United States is divided and an additional one for the District of Columbia created-in 1948. These Courts were created in 1891 to relieve the overburdened Supreme Court of a great deal of its appellate jurisdiction by making many decrees and judgments of the Circuit Courts final.

The Chief Justice is assigned by law to the Federal Court of Appeal of the District of Columbia. The eight associate Justices are distributed by assignment among the other circuits. Six of them are assigned to one district and each of the remaining two are assigned to other districts.

The requirement Of the original Judiciary Act that Justices of the Supreme Court travel on circuit has been repealed and they now only rarely if over choose to do so. A Court of Appeal must have at least three Judges, two of whom are necessary for a quorum. The number of Judges in each circuit varies from three to nine. Appeal Judges are appointed by President with the advice and consent of the Senate for terms of good behavior.

The Federal Courts of Appeal have essentially appellate jurisdiction, that is, they hear and determine only cases appealed from the lower courts, and their decisions are final in most cases except where the law provides fora direct review by the Supreme Court. This relieves the Supreme Court of all but the most important cases and enables it to dispatch its business more promptly, Federal Courts of Appeal also review and enforce orders of the Legislative Court, and quasi-judicial boards and commissions. The Supreme Court may call up from a Federal Court any case on a writ of certiorari involving an important constitutional or legal point.

District Courts:-

The lowest grade of Federal Courts is the District Court, ninety-four in number. In sore cases a State constitutes one district in other cases a State is divided into two or three districts. Districts have from one to twenty-four judges; in a few instances one judge serves two or more districts. The judges are appointed by the President with the approval of the Senate for terms of good behavior.

Excepting the few cases which originate in the Supreme Court, and those of special character that commence in the Legislative Courts, most other cases, civil and criminal, under the laws of the United States, start in District Courts. Their jurisdiction is original and no case comes to them on appeal, although cases begun in State Courts are occasionally transferred to them. Ordinarily, cases are tried with one judge presiding.

Since 1937, three judges must sit in most cases involving the constitutionality of federal statutes. Appeals in such cases may be taken directly to the Supreme Court and it was a part of President Roosevelt’s proposal to reorganize the Federal Courts. Otherwise, appeals as a rule, go first to the appropriate Court of Appeal.

The jurisdiction of the Federal Judiciary may thus, be summed up:

Supreme Court:

Original Jurisdiction:-

  1. Action by the United States against a State.
  2. Action by a State against a state.
  3. Cases involving ambassadors and other public ministers.
  4. Action by a State against citizen of another State or aliens (jurisdiction is not exclusive).

Appellate Jurisdiction:-

  1. From lower Federal Courts,
  2. From state Courts when a federal question is involved.

11 Courts of Appeal:-

Appellate Jurisdiction Courts:-

  1. From certain district Courts.
  2. From Certain Legislative Courts.
  3. From Certain great commissions such as security and Exchange Commission.

89 District Courts:-

Original Jurisdiction:-

  1. Over Cases of Crime against the United States.
  2. Over civil actions by the United State against an individual.
  3. Over cases involving citizens of different States.
  4. Over  actions by state against a alien or citizen of another State.
  5. Over cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.
  6. Over  such other cases as Congress may validly prescribe.
SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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