Constitution Post: Article 1, Section 8, Paragraph 9 

Oftentimes, the Judicial Branch can seem like an overwhelming one, and something that’s not easily understood.  Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way! Join me as we take a look at Article 1, Section 8.  Here, the Constitution says, “[Congress shall have the power to]…Constitute Tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court.”  This is called the Inferior Courts clause, and simply tells us that Congress has the jurisdiction to set up lower level courts. 

The Constitution also tells us in Article 3, Section 1 that 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.” 

Supreme Courts and Inferior Courts

During the founding era, it wouldn’t have been uncommon to see several supreme courts within states, but when we further developed our own judicial system under the Constitution, that changed.  David Engdahl, from the Heritage Foundation, says, 

“While the Constitutional Convention agreed that the new central government should include a permanent judiciary, there was disagreement over its size.  The original proposal (the Virginia Plan) called for ‘one or more supreme tribunals’, as well as ‘inferior tribunals.’ (In English and American usage at that time, ‘supreme’ and ‘inferior’ were normally used to indicate different breadths of geographic or subject matter competence, rather than appellate hierarchy; Virginia, for example, had four ‘supreme’ courts, with a complex of relations among them.)  Many of the delegates, however, believed it would be sufficient to have a single national court, empowered to review certain state court judgments.  By successive amendments, those delegates succeeded first in reducing the number of ‘supreme’ courts to one and then in eliminating the reference to ‘inferior’ courts.”

Now, we have three levels in our federal court system, and the later two classify as inferior courts. 

  • The U.S. Supreme Court, which has only one court
  • The U.S. Courts of Appeals, which consists of thirteen circuit courts
  • The U.S. District Courts, which has ninety-four districts, the U.S. Court of International Trade, and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims

Basically, all the courts underneath the Supreme Court are ‘inferior courts.’ 

District courts cover criminal cases where federal code has been violated and civil cases. According to the Judicial Learning Center, they hear more than 300,000 cases a year. 

The Court of Appeals is different, in that, they do not hear cases like district courts.  Their responsibility is to review the cases from district courts in order to determine if the decision was correct.  Here is a little more information on the Court of Appeals from the Judicial Learning Center: 

“What does the word circuit mean?  When the Supreme Court was first created, it was located in the U.S. capital, but judges also traveled a ‘circuit’ in various states to hear cases.  As the Courts of Appeal were created, judges did the same thing, traveling to courts within their circuit or region as needed.  So we call these courts ‘circuit courts’ for that reason.”

I hope you’ve been able to understand a little more about our Constitution and the judicial system in today’s post! Guys, let’s keep fighting for liberty! 


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