Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Supreme Court of the United States (1)

The Supreme Court Chamber Digital ID: 96345. New York Public Library

The Supreme Court of the United States is the head of the national judiciary. In our system of government there are three coordinate departments; executive, legislative, and judicial. The latter is the last named in the national Constitution, was the last brought into being, but is by no means the least important.

The existence of the Supreme Court is authorized by the Constitution. Section I of Article III. provides that "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 Supreme Court is thus a constitutional court, while the other courts of the United States are statutory. Though the Constitution provides for a Supreme Court, it leaves its organization and membership for Congressional supervision. The first act in respect thereto was passed at the first session of the United States Congress, approved by Washington on September 24, 1789, and directed that the court should consist of a Chief Justice and five associate justices, any four of whom should make a quorum. This act not only made provision for the Supreme Court, but created the inferior courts of the United States and organized its entire judicial system. It was drafted by Oliver Ellsworth, afterwards a Chief Justice of the United States. It has remained in its main features unchanged, and one of Ellsworth's admirers has declared that the Federal Judicial system, "the whole edifice, organization, jurisdiction, and process, was built by him as it now stands."

The Constitution in Section 2 of Article III. declares that "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." And also that "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." The original jurisdiction, being conferred by the Constitution, cannot be taken away by Congress, although that body may prescribe the procedure by which that jurisdiction is to be exercised; but in respect to the appellate jurisdiction both the procedure and its extent are matters of Congressional determination, and Congress has from time to time made changes in each.

The appellate jurisdiction may be separated into two divisions; one over State courts; the other over the inferior Federal Courts. With respect to the former it reviews the final judgment rendered in any case by the highest court of the State to which the case under State practice can be carried, and this irrespective of the amount in controversy. With respect to the latter, up to 1891 it had, speaking generally, jurisdiction to review the proceedings in any case which had passed to final judgment in such inferior courts, with a limitation in some classes of cases to a certain amount in controversy. By the act of that year (1891) courts of appeal were established, one in each circuit, and were given final jurisdiction in certain cases, such as revenue, admiralty, patent cases, etc. But the Supreme Court may still by certiorari, if it sees fit, bring any of these cases from a court of appeals before it for review. This act did away with the limitation as to the amount in controversy requisite for review by the Supreme Court. In addition the Supreme Court is given power to issue writs of prohibition and all other writs which may be necessary for the exercise of its jurisdiction and agreeable to the principles and usages of law. So that it may be said that the Supreme Court has complete supervision and control over all the inferior courts of the United States.

To be continued: Supreme Court (2)

Source of Information:
From my Collection of Books: The New International Encyclopedia; 1902-1905 Dodd, Mead and Company-New York Total of 21 Volumes

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