Article III Courts

Article III of the U.S. Constitution states: '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 federal courts created by this article include:

  • Supreme Court - One court with national jurisdiction.
  • Courts of Appeals - 12 Geographic-based and one for the Federal Circuit.
  • District Courts -94 in 50 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico along with their subordinate bankruptcy courts.
  • Court of International Trade.

Each of these federal courts, located primarily in larger cities, has the power to decide only those cases over which the Constitution gives them authority. The types of cases that reach federal courts are carefully selected.

Article III, Section 2

Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution is used to identify which cases will be heard and decided in the federal courts. The cases tend to include a segment of the United States government or an officer who is either suing someone or being sued.

The federal courts can also decide cases, where state courts are seen as an inappropriate choice or the state, may be suspected of partiality. Due to these circumstances, federal courts see cases to help decide controversies between:

  • Two or more states.
  • A State and Citizens of another State.
  • Citizens of different States.
  • Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States.

For example, one state might be sued by another state for the pollution of its air. Since the impartiality of the courts in either state could be questioned, this type of suit would be decided in a federal court.

Similarly, the Constitution extends the authority of the federal courts to see cases affecting ambassadors, consuls, and other public ministers. The U.S. government also has constitutional responsibility for U.S. relations with other nations. Because cases involving other nations' representatives or citizens may affect U.S. foreign relations, such cases are decided in the federal courts.

The Constitution provides the federal courts the power to hear cases involving:

  • The Constitution as a law.
  • Laws enacted by Congress, treaties, and laws relating to navigable waters including:
    • The sea.
    • The Great Lakes.
    • Most rivers and commerce on them.

The federal courts' jurisdiction also encompasses the many cases that involve or affect commerce among states. The Constitution describes what cases may be decided in the federal courts.

Congressional Determinations

Congress has previously determined, and will in the future decide, that some cases may be tried in state courts as well, giving federal and state courts concurrent jurisdiction. Congress has provided that suits between citizens of different states may be heard in the federal courts or the state courts, but they may be heard in the federal courts only if the amount in controversy exceeds $50,000.

Congress also has determined that maritime cases and suits against consuls can only be tried in the federal courts. When a state court decides a case involving federal law, it in a sense acts as a federal court, and its decisions on federal law may be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.