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Federal Jurisdiction
University of South Carolina School of Law
Stravitz, Howard B.

Congressional Power to Control Federal Jurisdiction
A.      Congressional Power to Regulate Federal Court Jurisdiction
1.        Unites States Constitution, Article III:
i)         §1 – “Ordain and Establish Clause” – 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 behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.
ii)       § 2 –
(1)     The judicial power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity (stuff showing Article III is a ceiling).
(a)     Arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made under their Authority;
(b)     To all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other Public Ministers and Consuls;
(c)     To all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction;
(d)     To Controversies in which the United States shall be a Party;
(e)     To Controversies between two or more States;
(f)      Between a state and citizens of another state;
(g)     Between citizens of different states;
(h)     Between citizens of the state claiming lands under grants of different states; AND
(i)       Between a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens, or subjects.
(2)     The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in all cases (1), affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls and (2) those in which a state shall be a party. In all other cases, 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.
2.        Four Approaches – i.e. four different interpretations of congressional power to control jurisdiction
i)         Federal courts must have full judicial power –
(1)     Opposition to this view:
(a)     This approach was explicitly rejected in Sheldon v. Sill because, as the court said in that case, the greater power to create lower federal courts must include the lesser power to define their jurisdiction.
(2)     Support for this view:
(a)     Art. III §1 says that the judicial power “shall be vested” in one supreme Court and such inferior courts. Art. III §2 says that the judicial power “shall extend to” nine categories of cases and controversies.
(3)     Comments:
(a)     This approach has never been followed historically
(4)     Summary: This approach argues that Congress has complete discretion as to whether to create the lower federal courts, but once that power is exercised the lower courts must have all of the jurisdiction enumerate in Art. III §2.
ii)       Congressional discretion to decide jurisdiction
(1)     Summary: Art. III gives Congress the plenary power over whether to create lower federal courts and, once created, to define their jurisdiction up to the ceiling provided in Art. III § 2 (i.e. the Art. III enumerated jurisdiction)
(2)     Sheldon v. Sill (1850) –  
(a)     Facts: Judiciary Act denied federal courts jurisdiction to consider suits by assignees unless the assignor could have also sued in federal court.
(b)     Holding: Congress has the power to remove a case or controversy from the jurisdiction of the federal courts.
(c)     Argument: The lower federal courts were created by Congress not by the constitution. Since congress established these courts, it has the power to determine the scope of their jurisdiction.
(d)     Rules:
(i)       Congress may withhold, from any court of its creation, the jurisdiction to hear any cases enumerated in Art. III, §2.
(ii)     Courts created by congress can have no jurisdiction but such that the statute confers. There must be a statutory grant of jurisdiction for the inferior court to hear the case. The Constitution is not self-enacting when it comes to lower court jurisdiction.
(iii)    A statute that prescribes the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts cannot be in conflict with the Constitution unless the statute confers jurisdiction not enumerate in Art. III §2. This § acts as a jurisdictional ceiling.
(e)     The other option available to the court was to say that the inferior courts created by Congress, if it chooses to created them, must exercise all of the power conferred by Art. III §2. The court rejected this by stating that the greater power to create the lower federal courts must also include the lesser power to define their jurisdiction.
(f)      Appears to vest Congress with a plenary power to define the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts
(3)     Concurrent jurisdiction – Art. III. is based on the premise that all of the judicial power not originally vested in the Supreme Court would naturally be vested in states should Congress fail to establish the lower federal courts. (e.g. There was no federal question jurisdictional until after the Civil War, so all of those cases were heard in state courts)
(4)     Hart’s Dialogue – Professor Hart argued that, in light of Sheldon and Congress’ apparent plenary power to define jurisdiction of the lower courts, the ultimate protections of constitut

the constitutionality of the underlying act is the defendant’s only defense. (see approach #4)
iii)      Constitutional requirement for some federal courts
(1)     Premised on the language in Art. III § 1 stating that the judicial power of the United State shall be vested means that the power must be vested somewhere.
(2)     Justice Story claimed in dictum from Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee (1) that there must be some federal court available to hear cases within Art. III, §2 (2) if Congress fails to create lower federal courts, there are at least some types of cases that are not within the jurisdiction of state courts and not within the Supreme Court’s Original jurisdiction.
(3)     Eisentrager v. Forrestal (D.C. Ct. App.) – Congress must create lower federal courts in two instances:
(a)     Where the case is not within the jurisdiction of states courts and not within the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
(b)     Where Congress simultaneously strips jurisdiction of the lower federal courts and the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction.
(4)     Sager’s Thesis – 2 postulates (contrast with Hart’s pro-state argument):
(a)     Art. III’s tenure and salary protections require that Congress must leave at least one federal court available to hear assertion of federal constitutional right (could be Supreme Court or lower court).
(b)     Selective limits on lower court jurisdiction (stripping jurisdiction to hear all cases involving abortion, for example) constitute a violation of the Constitution by inviting the states to violate citizens’ constitutional rights. “In effect, Congress would be painting a target on constitutionally protected right.” Premise is that jurisdiction stripping over cases involving a particular right constitutes an unconstitutional burden on that protected right.
iv)     Specific constitutional limits
(1)     Congress cannot violate another provision of the Constitution when it defines the jurisdiction of the lower courts pursuant to Art. III. Checks include:
(a)     Equal Protection Clause
(b)     Due Process Clause
Separation of Powers