Next Article: Federal Article I Courts
Back to: US COURT SYSTEM
What is the authority for the federal and state judicial systems in the United States?
The authority for the federal and state judicial systems is found in the US and state Constitutions. Below is a breakdown of the courts as authorized under Articles I, II, and III of the US Constitution. State constitutions are modeled after the US Constitution and generally establish a similar state-court structure.
- Article III – Section I, reads “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 US Supreme Court is the only court specifically established by the Constitution. Congress has created several subordinate courts below the Supreme Court, which include the Federal District Courts, Federal Circuit Courts, and numerous ancillary courts that have special jurisdiction. Pursuant to Articles I and II, all members of Article III courts and tribunals are appointed by the President and are confirmed by a vote of the Senate.
Discussion: Can you think of any reasons why Congress decided to create numerous courts that are subordinate to the Supreme Court? How do you feel about the right of the President to nominate judges? How do you feel about the requirement that the Senate approve judicial nominees? Can you recall any instances where the Senate has refused to confirm a Presidential nominee to a federal court?
- The creation of lower courts was to avoid situations where the court will have too many cases to handle. Each term SCOTUS is able to hear a maximum of 80 cases on appeal. This would certainly not be adequate without inferior trial and appellate courts. Many would say that that the power of the President to nominate judges and justices does not fully achieve the objectives of separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive. Others feel that it is a an acceptable approach, as that authority is checked by vote in the Senate. The involvement of the Senate is to ensure that the executive does not misuse its powers to nominate judges. As an example, Judge Robert Bork was denied confirmation to the SCOTUS by the Senate.
Practice Question: At the end of the year, it is expected that there will be approximately 150 federal judgeships open. The President of the United States has assembled a list of nominees for the positions. His list is very well planned and all of the candidates have the appropriate credentials for the position. Can the President rest assured that all of his nominees will receive the nominated judicial position?
- It depends. The judicial nomination and confirmation process is highly affected by political pressures. Depending on the political party of the President, and the part of the Senate majority, it is could be the case that fully qualified candidates are denied confirmation. It could also be the case that wholly unqualified individuals are nominated and sometimes confirmed. For example, President Donald Trump notably nominated numerous wholly unqualified candidates for federal judgeships.
Grove, Tara Leigh, Article III in the Political Branches (September 2, 2015). Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 90, 2015; William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-317. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2654834
Stern, Craig A., What’s a Constitution Among Friends? – Unbalancing Article III (November 2, 1998). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 146, No. 4, 1998. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2698218
Durling, James, The District of Columbia and Article III (April 30, 2018). 107 Georgetown Law Journal (2019 Forthcoming). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3171195 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3171195
Coan, Andrew and Marcus, David, Article III, Representation, and Remedies (January 22, 2018). 9 ConLawNOW (2018 Forthcoming); Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No. 18-02. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3107781 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3107781