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Adjudicative Power: Personal Jurisdiction

The answer to these questions lies in the meaning of a fundamental concept called judicial jurisdiction. Judicial jurisdiction, sometimes referred to as adjudicative jurisdiction, is the demarcation of the authority or power of a court to adjudicate a particular dispute. Moreover, judicial jurisdiction is further divided into two constituent parts. A court must possess personal jurisdiction, i.e., the authority to issue a binding judgment over the parties to the action through its power either over these persons or their property. Additionally, the chosen tribunal must possess subject matter jurisdiction, i.e, the authority to adjudicate the type of controversy that has been placed before the court.

In this chapter we shall concentrate on personal jurisdiction, the power of a court to issue an enforceable judgment over persons and/or property. As you read through the several judicial opinions contained in this chapter, do so with these four related questions in mind: (1) what limits, if any, are imposed on a court’s personal jurisdiction?; (2) what is the source or origin of these limitations?; (3) what interests or policies are these limits intended to promote?; and (4) are these interests or policies served by the purported source of the limitation?

We begin our investigation into the limits of personal jurisdiction with a judicial chestnut; a decision that has served as the analytical springboard for the succeeding one hundred and thirty-five years’ worth of jurisdiction jurisprudence. And although this opinion has befuddled and bemused generations of law students, it provides the careful reader with a wonderful opportunity to critically analyze the structure, conclusions and reasoning of a landmark judicial opinion.

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