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What is the Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court?

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  • 0:06 Limitations on Jurisdiction
  • 1:41 Original Jurisdiction
  • 3:34 Limited Review
  • 4:59 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

The U.S. Supreme Court exercises a right to preside over specific cases and is considered the court of original jurisdiction based on subject-matter jurisdiction. It is considered an appellate court for cases involving constitutional law under certain circumstances.

Limitations on Jurisdiction

When there is a dispute between two states, the only fair way to seek justice is to have the case heard by a non-biased party, like the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and has limited jurisdiction, or power to decide a case, based on certain criteria.

Under original jurisdiction, or the first court to hear the case, some of the cases the United States Supreme Court can hear are:

  • Disputes between two states
  • Disputes where the United States is a party to the case
  • Disputes between individuals who do not share a common state
  • A dispute or crime that arises under a violation of federal law
  • Habeas Corpus (or false imprisonment)
  • Bankruptcy
  • International trade disputes

Under appellate jurisdiction, the United States Supreme Court can hold a limited review of a case from a lower court if the appeal involves a question of law or constitutional rights violations.

This means if one or both parties are dissatisfied with the decision of a lower court, the case may be moved up to the U.S. Supreme Court if the issue involves the interpretation of constitutional law. Even under this circumstance, the U.S. Supreme Court can deny the case.

In fact, thousands of cases are sent up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and barely 150 cases ever receive attention. There must be a substantial federal question of the application of law at issue.

Original Jurisdiction

The U.S. Supreme Court has the right to reside over certain cases involving states, dignitaries, diversity of parties and bankruptcy. This is because the cases generally involve a violation of federal or constitutional law or require an unbiased party.

In New Jersey v. Delaware (2008), it was imperative that an unbiased court hear the case. After all, if the case was heard in the respective state courts, it would be difficult to determine whether fairness prevailed. In this case, the state of New Jersey filed suit against Delaware over a dispute involving the placement of a gas pipeline.

New Jersey and Delaware are separated by the Delaware River. It was New Jersey's intention to team up with BP to build a gas pipeline. Normally, this would not be an issue because bodies of water between states are generally divided right down the middle.

So, the river would have been measured from one state's shore to the other and divided - and so the boundary is set. This wasn't the case with the border between these two states. It seems that in 1681, King Charles II extended Delaware's border all the way to the New Jersey coastline, making it impossible for New Jersey to build the pipeline anywhere off its riverbank.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided that Delaware did own the land, and without permission, no pipeline construction could take place. Original jurisdiction was determined because this case involved a dispute between two states.

But what happens when a dispute between two people in a lower court ends with one or more dissatisfied parties? The U.S. Supreme Court can review these cases too. However, unlike original jurisdiction where a trial actually takes place, there is a limited review of the case.

Limited Review

In cases where an appeal is requested by a party based on the decision of a lower court, the U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear a case if there has been a violation of constitutional law.

In Gregg v. Georgia, the issue involved the death penalty and the question of whether it was considered cruel and unusual punishment. Death row inmate Troy Leon Gregg believed his death sentence was a violation of his Eighth Amendment right to human dignity.

Gregg was originally tried in state court for the murder and robbery of two men. Once convicted, the jury was asked to decide on his sentencing and was given the criteria for a death sentence. It was decided that Gregg met two of the ten criteria, and they subsequently made their decision to execute the convicted killer.

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