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Congressional Power to Limit the Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Inferior Federal Courts


Article III, §1 provides that “[t]he 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.” Section 2 of the same Article describes nine subject matters over which the “judicial Power shall extend,” vesting two of those subject matters in the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction, and with respect to the remaining seven providing, “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.”

Thus, in two brief sections consisting of three somewhat cryptic paragraphs, Article III establishes the judicial branch. It will consist of a Supreme Court and those lower federal courts Congress decides to create. The Constitution's only other textual references to the composition of the Supreme Court are indirect—most notably, a description of the role of the “Chief Justice” in the impeachment process, and the inclusion of “Judges of the supreme Court” within the President's appointment power. Art. I, §3, cl. 6; Art. II, §2, cl. 2. There is also one other textual reference to inferior federal courts, but that reference merely provides the source of the power to create those courts—a grant of authority to Congress “To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court.” Art. I, §8, cl. 9.

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