Constitution of the United States/Art. III
Article III Judicial Branch
Overview[edit | edit source]
Article III of the U.S. Constitution establishes the Judicial Branch of the federal government. Section 1 of Article III, known as the Judicial Vesting Clause, confers the federal judicial power on "one supreme Court" and "such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." Through that language, the Constitution's Framers ensured the existence of a federal Supreme Court but left to Congress the decision of whether to establish lower federal courts. The first Congress established lower federal courts in the first legislation related to the Federal Judiciary. As the Nation expanded, Congress legislated to expand and restructure the Article III Judiciary and also periodically created other tribunals known as "Article I courts" or "legislative courts."
While Article III grants Congress significant authority to establish and structure federal courts, it also imposes key limitations designed to ensure the independence of the Judiciary. Article III, Section 1 provides that federal judges "shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour," which the Supreme Court has interpreted to grant federal judges life tenure, unless they voluntarily resign or are impeached and removed from the bench. Section 1 also provides that federal judges shall receive compensation for their work, "which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office." That provision prevents Congress from punishing unpopular judicial decisions by docking judges' pay.
Article III, Section 2, Clause 1 authorizes the creation of federal courts with limited jurisdiction, providing that the "judicial Power shall extend" to certain enumerated categories of "Cases" and "Controversies." Among other things, the Clause provides for federal court jurisdiction over cases "arising under" the Constitution or the laws or treaties of the United States (sometimes called "federal question jurisdiction") and controversies between citizens of different states (known as "diversity jurisdiction"). Article III, Section 2, Clause 2 grants the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over a subset of federal cases, meaning that litigants may commence those cases in the Supreme Court rather than beginning the cases in a state court or a lower federal court and reaching the Supreme Court on appeal, if at all. The Constitution's grant of Supreme Court original jurisdiction is self-executing, meaning that Congress need not enact legislation to implement it. None of the other grants of federal court jurisdiction are self-executing, however, so the lower federal courts can only hear cases to the extent Congress enacts legislation authorizing them to do so. The Supreme Court has interpreted Article III as setting the outer bounds of federal court jurisdiction: Congress cannot grant jurisdiction beyond what Article III authorizes, but is not required to grant the federal courts the full authority it might choose to confer consistent with the constitutional authorization.
The Supreme Court has also construed Article III to impose certain "justiciability" requirements that may limit federal courts' ability to hear cases that would otherwise fall within their jurisdiction. Among other limitations, federal courts may not issue advisory opinions. Relatedly, every federal court plaintiff must demonstrate standing to sue, which requires that the plaintiff possess a concrete and personal stake in the outcome of the case. Federal courts may not hear cases that are not "ripe" for decision because the dispute has not developed enough for a court to decide the issues presented effectively or those that have become "moot" and no longer present a live controversy. The courts also cannot hear "political questions" best entrusted to the other branches of government and generally avoid deciding constitutional questions when a case can be resolved on other grounds.
The remainder of Article III governs specific judicial proceedings. Article III, Section 2, Clause 3 governs criminal trials, requiring a jury trial for the "Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment." Article III, Section 3 governs trial and punishment for treason. Section 3, Clause 1 defines treason as "only . . . levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort" and provides that conviction for treason requires the testimony of two witnesses "to the same overt Act" or "Confession in open Court." Section 3, Clause 2 prohibits punishing treason by "Corruption of Blood."
Section 1 Vesting Clause[edit | edit source]
|The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.|
Section 2 Justiciability[edit | edit source]
Clause 1 Cases or Controversies[edit | edit source]
|The judicial Power 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;--to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;--to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;--to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;--to Controversies between two or more States;--between a State and Citizens of another State,--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.|
Clause 2 Supreme Court Jurisdiction[edit | edit source]
|In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.|
Clause 3 Trials[edit | edit source]
|The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.|
Section 3 Treason[edit | edit source]
Clause 1 Meaning[edit | edit source]
|Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.|
Clause 2 Punishment[edit | edit source]
|The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.|
- Art. III, Section 1 Vesting Clause.
- The Framers generally accepted that state courts would play a significant role in interpreting and applying federal law, but they debated whether to leave that role entirely to state courts, subject to review by the federal Supreme Court, or whether lower federal court were more likely to apply federal law correctly, uniformly, and without bias. See Art. III, Sec. 1: Historical Background on Relationship Between Federal and State Courts.
- 1 Stat. 73.
- See Art. III, Sec. 1: Overview of Establishment of Article III Courts.
- See Art. III, Sec. 1: Overview of Congressional Power to Establish Non-Article III Courts.
- Art. III, Section 1 Vesting Clause; see also Art. III, Sec. 1: Overview of Good Behavior Clause.
- Art. III, Section 1 Vesting Clause.
- See Art. III, Sec. 1: Historical Background on Compensation Clause. Article III's protections for federal judges do not apply to judges on Article I tribunals. See Art. III, Sec. 1: Congressional Power to Structure Legislative Courts.
- Art. III, Sec. 2, Clause 1 Cases or Controversies.
- See Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 1: Overview of Federal Question Jurisdiction.
- See Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 1: Overview of Diversity Jurisdiction. Other examples of matters subject to federal court jurisdiction include admiralty and maritime cases, cases to which the United States is a Party, and controversies between states. See generally Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 1: Overview of Cases or Controversies.
- Art. III, Sec. 2, Clause 2 Supreme Court Jurisdiction; see also Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 2: Supreme Court Original Jurisdiction. Under current law, parties in most cases must seek Supreme Court review through a petition for a writ of certiorari, which the Court has discretion to grant or deny. See Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 2: Supreme Court Appellate Jurisdiction.
- Relatedly, Congress may not enact legislation limiting the Court's original jurisdiction. See, e.g., Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cr.) 137, 174 (1803).
- See, e.g., Romero v. International Terminal Operating Co., 358 U.S. 354, 364 (1959) (describing "enumerated classes of cases to which 'judicial power' was extended by the Constitution and which thereby authorized grants by Congress of 'judicial Power' to the 'inferior' federal courts"). Likewise, Article III provides that the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction is subject to "such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make." Art. III, Sec. 2, Clause 2 Supreme Court Jurisdiction; see also Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 2: Exceptions Clause and Congressional Control over Appellate Jurisdiction.
- See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (bestowing less than the maximum amount of diversity jurisdiction by granting federal courts jurisdiction in civil actions between citizens of different states and between a citizen of a state and a subject of a foreign state if the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000).
- See Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 1: Overview of Rules of Justiciability and Cases or Controversies Requirement.
- An advisory opinion is a non-binding interpretation of the law by a court, essentially the court providing advice on an abstract or hypothetical legal question. See Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 1: Overview of Advisory Opinions.
- See Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 1: Overview of Standing.
- See Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 1: Overview of Ripeness Doctrine.
- See Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 1: Overview of Mootness Doctrine.
- See Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 1: Overview of Political Question Doctrine.
- See Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 1: Overview of Constitutional Avoidance Doctrine.
- Art. III, Sec. 2, Clause 3 Trials; see also Art. III, Sec. 2, Cl. 3: Jury Trials.
- Art. III, Sec. 3, Clause 1 Meaning; see also Art. III, Sec. 3, Cl. 1: Historical Background on Treason.
- Art. III, Sec. 3, Clause 2 Punishment; see also Art. III, Sec. 3, Cl. 2: Punishment of Treason Clause. "Corruption of blood" refers to "perpetual forfeiture of the estate of the person attainted [for treason], to the disinherison of his heirs, or of those who would otherwise be his heirs." Wallach v. Van Riswick, 92 U.S. 202, 210 (1876).