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What Falls Under Supreme Court Jurisdiction?

Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye

A court’s ability to hear a case is known as its jurisdiction. In the United States (US), federal Supreme Court jurisdiction is limited. Its original jurisdiction includes cases such as those involving disputes between states, disputes of which the US is a named party, and cases involving US citizens and foreign entities.

To understand Supreme Court jurisdiction, it is important to understand a term known as original jurisdiction. This refers to the ability of a court to be the first to hear a case. For example, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in any case that involves a dispute in which the US government is a party.

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

This includes cases in which the federal government is named as a plaintiff and those that involve the US as a defendant. This is true despite who the opposing party is. The Supreme Court could, therefore, hear a case in which the US is suing a state or one in which a foreign visitor is suing the US.

When one state wants to sue another state, this is done in the Supreme Court. In these instances, the need for federal intervention exists because one state’s government does not have the authority to impose or enforce judgment against any other state. Disputes that involve citizens from one state suing another state government fall under the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction.

In some instances, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction between individuals. This includes instances where the people are residents of different states. It also includes instances when the dispute involves a foreign entity. Maritime cases and those involving admiralty are within the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. Cases in this category usually involve issues that involve bodies of water or activities conducted in such spaces.

Cases that involve some federal representatives also fall under Supreme Court jurisdiction. According to the Constitution, the federal representatives over whom the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction, include ambassadors, consuls, and certain ministers. There are no specifications limiting which types of cases involving these individuals the Supreme Court is allowed to hear.

Supreme Court jurisdiction also includes appellate powers. Cases which have been unsatisfactorily decided in other courts may later be heard by the Supreme Court if they have traveled the appropriate path of appeals. This is true whether the case originated in a state or federal court. In these instances, however, the Supreme Court has the authority to decide which cases it wishes to hear.

Discussion Comments


What I want to see someday out of the Supreme Court is them ruling on certain social issues that have been an ongoing problem in the country for a long time.

I have always felt that the reason why the gay marriage topic is always hotly debated is because the Supreme Court has not decided on it yet. They could settle the issue once and for all, but choose not to. I wonder why this is the case?

I say it could be that liberal legislators are afraid to have something like gay marriage reach the Supreme Court because of the supremely Conservative presence in the Court.

I somewhat wish that the President was not able to appoint whoever they wanted to the Court because that can make the Court political, like it is now. The forefathers did not want the Supreme Court to become a political entity, but rather an impartial body to decide on the Constitutionality of laws. By bringing politics into the matter, it undermines the Constitution and creates a Court that most people can figure out how they will decide or sway to before the case is heard.


The law is an interesting thing and in reality the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over everything included in the article. However, they can override other courts and directly be the appeals sort of court for cases that started in the lower courts.

Say a Constitutional issue were to arise in the lower courts this will catch the attention of the Supreme Court and they will listen to it directly after the lower court has ruled. Sometimes the lower court has to rule in such a way just because the law is written that way, but the Supreme Court will hear the case to correct a possible mistake in law caused by the grey area.

There are numerous Supreme Court cases throughout history that have the Supreme Court doing this and it is never anything new to the Court. They are always looking to set legal precedents and try to solve Constitutional issues. That is why the Court was created and that is why they have the final say on all legal matters.


I have always been interested in Supreme Court cases and am interested in how much power the Supreme Court has over all levels of government.

The Supreme Court alone can only decide and overturn laws and court cases. They are the ones that can decide once and for all what the precedent of the matter is and set the foundation for future legal cases and the law to refer to.

For anyone studying history that involves any legal matter whatsoever they need to first refer to past Supreme Court cases and see what precedent was set and why. By looking at the opinions of the cases one can see the legal reasoning behind the decisions in regard to the Constitution and why the justices decided in such a way.

These opinions are important to read because that is where the justices give their opinions on the matter and reason why they decided to set the precedent they did.


What many people do not know about the Supreme Court is that they could hear cases that never went through federal courts or ever went to an Appeals Court.

The Supreme Court can hear any case whatsoever, however in a normal case, say if someone were found guilty of a crime in the lower courts, they can hear the case and act as the appeals court to speed up the legal process.

This happened in the case that concerned Miranda Rights as the man involved was denied appeal and the Supreme Court heard the case directly after he was found guilty in the lower courts.

Although rare, when the Supreme Court does this they are trying to settle a legal issue that is in the grey area of the law. What the Supreme Court decides then becomes the precedent of the law and it stays that way unless a future case changes only the Supreme Court's mind.


@JessicaLynn - That is true. That's why most presidents appoint Supreme Court justices who hold views on important issues that they agree with. This is especially important because Supreme Court justices are appointed for life!

I actually wasn't aware the the Supreme Court had original jurisdiction over anything. It does make a lot of sense though, when you think about it. Who else would hear a case between two states?


I think it's interesting that the Supreme Court can decide which cases they want to hear as far as appellate cases. So a person could appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court and then be turned down!

I remember learning about this in school. Since the Supreme Court basically makes things into law when they make a ruling, they often purposely hear certain cases. If the case is on an issue they want to make a ruling about, than they accept the case. Or, if they think the state made an appropriate ruling, they turn the case down.

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