Why did the Constitution grant Congress the power to create “inferior courts”?

A. The builders of the Constitution ensured the extension of the principle of checks and balances.

B. The builders of the Constitution feared the Supreme Court would become too powerful without other courts.

C. The builders of the Constitution wanted other branches of government to have their own courts.

D. The builders of the Constitution wanted federal and state courts to share power under the Supreme Court.

The answer is D: The builders of the Constitution wanted federal and state courts to share power under the Supreme Court. The answer is explained in details below.

What is an Inferior Court?

The constitution of the United States established only one federal court, that is the Supreme Court. Article III of the US Constitution left the creation of other “inferior” courts to the Congress.

Such courts are below the Supreme Court – the highest judicial authority and are hence known as Inferior Courts. The federal government was to establish and ordain the lower courts.

The structure of the American judicial system is such that the Supreme Court is right at the top and other courts like Appellate, Trial and other Federal courts are below it.

Examples of lower courts in the American judicial system are – U.S. Court of Appeals, U.S. District Courts, State Supreme Courts, State Appeal Courts and State Trial Courts.

The current inferior courts in the USA are the Courts of Appeal, United States District Courts and U.S. Court of International Trade.

Constitutional Court vs Legislative Court

Constitutional courts were established by the Judiciary Act of 1789 and are called as such because they were mentioned in Article III of the Constitution.

These courts are the “inferior courts”. The President nominates the judges presiding over such courts and then confirmed by the Senate while serving lifetime terns that involves good behavior.

Over the years, other courts have been created by the Congress to handle cases for special purposes. Three constitutional provisions define the “inferior” or Article III courts:

  • Resolving cases that are live
  • Lifetime tenure
  • Salary protection

Such arrangements were made to ensure that the judiciary was insulated from pressures and elements that might improperly influence judicial decisions.

Legislative courts are not inferior courts. They were set up mostly in the early 20th century to hear cases in territories that had been acquired by the United States during the 1800s. These courts are alternatively known as “Article I courts” or “non-Article three courts”.

The Court of Claims and the Tax Court are examples of Article I courts. The judges on such special courts have a term limit, and they do not enjoy salary protection. Legislative courts are of two types – Standalone and “Adjuncts” to Article III courts.

Who can create an inferior court?

The Constitution, specifically the Article III, explicitly created only the Supreme Court and laid the groundwork for cases to be heard by the Supreme Court as well as other courts that were created.

The Congress has the power to create inferior courts that have all powers of Article III and hence known as constitutional courts.

The judiciary act of 1789

The Judiciary Act of 1789 was a federal statute that was adopted in the very first session of the first US Congress and established the federal judiciary in the USA. The act set the number of justices for Supreme Court at 6, 1 chief justice and 5 associate justices.

The Supreme Court got exclusive and original jurisdiction over civil actions between a state and united states or just between states, along with proceedings against ambassadors and diplomats.

Original but not exclusive jurisdiction was given to the Supreme Court over cases involving any state and ambassadors. It had appellate jurisdiction over circuit courts and decisions taken by state courts that held statutes or treaties of the USA as invalid or held valid any law that was challenged to be inconsistent with the constitution, treaties and laws.

The Act created 13 judicial districts within the eleven states. The act also established a circuit court and a district court in each judicial district.

The circuit courts had original jurisdiction over crimes and civil cases of at least $500 about diversity jurisdiction or the United States of America as the plaintiff in equity and common law.

The circuit courts had appellate jurisdiction over district courts. The district courts had single judges and the jurisdiction mainly covered petty crimes, admiralty cases and suits by the United States for a minimum of $100.

The Office of the Attorney General, whose primary task was to represent the United States in the Supreme Court was also created.

Jurisdiction of federal inferior courts

The framers of the Constitution simply authorized the Congress to create the Inferior courts, in which judicial power “shall be vested” and nine classes of controversies and cases should be extended to them.

As it wasn’t clear what specific powers must be bestowed upon such courts, cases involving treaties, laws and the Constitution were not handed to them. There was minimal diversity jurisdiction.

Equity jurisdiction was limited to only those cases where an adequate, plain and complete remedy could not be had by law. As such, it has been interpreted that the Congress can decide the powers and jurisdiction of the Inferior Courts. Cases like Turner v. Bank of North America, Cary v. Curtis and Sheldon v. Sill implied the same.

Conclusion

Even though the US Constitution and federal laws always override state laws, the state courts are in no way subordinates to federal courts.

State laws dictate the state courts, but they are also answerable to the topmost Supreme Court of the USA. State courts and federal courts are two parallel sets with different but overlapping jurisdictions.

The Constitution doesn’t allow federal courts to decide the content of state law. The Constitution of the United States had only created the Supreme Court and left the creation of remaining courts to the Congress.

As the Supreme Court was the topmost judicial authority any court created after that by the Congress would be an Inferior Court. As such federal as well as state courts, being the Inferior courts, share power under the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

References

  1. Jurisdiction of Lower Federal Courts: Retrieved from scholarship.law.upenn.edu
  2. Power of Congress to control the federal courts: Taken from law.cornell.edu
  3. Structure of the Federal Courts: Retrieved from ushistory.org
  4. Congress’s Power on Courts: Rule of Klein: Retrieved from fas.org

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