Powers Vested in the U.S. Supreme Court–1923

2009: Part 1 ↑ → Part 2Part 3

The Supreme Court of the United States; Source: The Congressional Digest; vol. 2, #9, 1923.

Powers Vested in the Supreme Court by the Constitution.

“THE Judicial Branch of the Federal Government is provided for by the Constitution of the United States as follows:

Article III


Section 1. 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. 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.


In all cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be a 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.


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 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.

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.

Article VI—Paragraph 2.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Amendment XI.

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.”

The Supreme Court and the Inferior Federal Courts.

Extracts from “The Supreme Court of the United States,” by W. W. Willoughby:

“THE first Congress, in pursuance of the legislative power given to constitute a federal judiciary, passed in 1789, what has been known as the Judiciary Act; (1789) a piece of legislation, in its perfect adaptation to the political needs, and in its accuracy of expression, second to none in our long list of congressional enactments. The act was drafted by a committee composed of Patterson, Johnson and Ellsworth, but was the work almost entirely of Ellsworth.

How many Supreme Court Justices are there? (FYI, The number is set by Congress, not the Constitution.)

The first section of the Judiciary Act reads: “That the Supreme Court of the United States shall consist of one Chief Justice and five Associate Justices.” (Presently, in 2018, there are 9.)

The act further proceeds to establish the inferior courts and to define their fields of jurisdiction as follows: Three grades of federal courts were provided for. The United States was first divided into judicial districts, and to each of these districts was given a district court and a judge, appointed by the President. These courts formed the lowest grade of courts. As provided for in the Act, each State was made a district, as were the Territories of Maine and Kentucky. At present, owing to increased density of population, many of the States are divided into two, and some into three and even four districts.

By the grouping together of these districts, circuits were formed, and to each of these a circuit court was given. These formed the grade of courts next higher than the district courts. The number of circuits has differed at different times. By the act of 1789 three were provided for; since 1869 there have been nine. Until 1869 (excepting a short period in 1801) there were no circuit judges, circuit work being done by the supreme court justices.

By the act of 1869 a circuit judge was to be appointed by the President for each circuit. One of the justices of the Supreme Court is, however, still allotted to each of the circuits, and may sit in that circuit court if he desires. [By the Evarts act of 1891 Congress established nine circuit courts of appeals with nine circuit judges. Under this act the circuit work of the Supreme Court justices which formerly was obligatory became permissive, and in the past fifteen years the practice has been abandoned.] The circuit court may be held by the circuit judge, by the Supreme Court justice or by the district judge of that district in which the court is sitting; or by any two of them, or by all three of them sitting together.

Last, and highest of the federal courts, is the Supreme Court at Washington, at present consisting of a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices.

The jurisdictional relations between the different grades of the federal courts is simple. Their jurisdiction is over federal questions, that is over those cases mentioned in the constitution and covered by Acts of Congress in pursuance thereof, to which the judicial power of the United States has been extended. To the circuit courts of appeals come all appeals from the district courts, which is allowed in all cases involving sums of five hundred dollars and over. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort, and to it come appeals from the circuit courts of appeals in cases involving five thousand dollars and over.

In addition to making these regulations concerning appeals from a lower to a higher federal court, the judiciary act gives to the Supreme Court the revision of certain classes of cases decided in the highest state courts. The twenty-fifth section of the act provides that this may be done in the following three classes of cases:

  1. “Where is drawn in question the validity of a treaty, or statute of, or an authority exercised under the United States, and the decision is against their validity.
  2. Where is drawn in question the validity of a statute of, or an authority exercised under the laws of a State on the ground of their being repugnant to the Constitution, treaties, or laws of the United States, and the decision is in favor of their validity.
  3. Where any right, privilege, or immunity is claimed under the Constitution, or any treaty, or statute of, or commission held, or authority exercised under the United States, and the decision is against the title, right, privilege, or immunity specially set up, or claimed by either party under such constitution, statute, commission or authority.”

No minimum amount to be involved in order to admit of an appeal to the Supreme Court was imposed in these classes of cases, for it was seen that in a case involving but a slight pecuniary amount, a federal question might be involved, the settlement of which would be of great importance to the whole people.

The cases decided by the Supreme Court are of two classes.

  1. Those of original jurisdiction, as specified in the constitution;
  2. Those of appellate jurisdiction: Of this latter class there are two kinds, those coming to the Supreme Courts by way of appeal from the lower federal courts, and those coming thither by way of appeal from the highest state courts.

Besides the courts which have been mentioned there are a few other federal courts. The District of Columbia being under the direct control of the United States, its courts are federal tribunals, and cases in them admit of an appeal or writs of error or certiorari to the Supreme Court. The same is true of territorial courts established by federal authority.

Though a sovereign nation, and therefore not liable to suit, the United States permits parties having claims against it, to sue for the amount, and for this purpose has established at Washington a Court of Claims, held by five judges. From this court appeals lie, in some cases to the Supreme Court, and in other cases they are referred to Congress for final adjudication.” ◊ Federal Judicial History ◊ John Jay; The 1st Supreme Court Justice.

The Significance of Supreme Court Nominations:

“The defeat of a Supreme Court nomination can make a profound difference. After President Richard M. Nixon lost two nominees in a row, he appointed Harry A. Blackmun, who wound up being the author of the Roe v. Wade abortion decision and other liberal rulings. Almost the same thing happened when President Ronald Reagan nominated the staunch conservative Robert H. Bork. After Judge Bork was defeated in the Senate and a second choice later withdrew, Reagan tapped Anthony M. Kennedy, who ended up writing the Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage decision and other rulings anathema to the right. Justice Kennedy retired this summer, opening the seat that Mr. Trump hopes to fill with Judge Kavanaugh.”–Peter Baker; New York Times, September 25, 2018. ¹

Applicable Commentary?

He leadeth counsellers away spoiled, and maketh the judges fools. Job 12:17. ⇒John Gill Commentary; “And maketh the judges fools; men of great parts, abilities, and capacities, whereby they are qualified to sit upon the bench, preside in courts of judicature, and judge in all matters of controversy that come before them; and it is a happiness to a country to have such persons, as it is a judgment to have them removed, see Isaiah 3:2; yet God can take away the wisdom of such men, deprive them of their natural abilities, and so infatuate them, that they shall not be able to understand a cause, but pass a foolish sentence, to their own shame and disgrace, as well as to the injury of others.” See Isaiah 40:23.” John Gill; 1697-1771.