American Judicial Power

American Judicial Power

The State Court Perspective

Elgar Monographs in Constitutional and Administrative Law series

Michael Buenger and Paul J. De Muniz

American Judicial Power: The State Court Perspective is a welcome addition to the breadth of studies on the American legal system and provides an accessible and highly illuminating overview of the state courts and their functions.

Chapter 5: Modern state judicial structures

Michael Buenger and Paul J. De Muniz

Subjects: law - academic, constitutional and administrative law, politics and public policy, public administration and management, public policy


Under the United States Constitution, the structure and jurisdiction of the federal courts is largely determined by the Congress. Beyond the United States Supreme Court, no other federal courts are textually required by the Constitution and all lower courts exist, to some degree, at the pleasure of the Congress, which retains broad power to expand or withdraw federal jurisdiction. There have been times in American history when Congress has exercised its broad authority to reduce or eliminate federal jurisdiction or alter the structure of the courts. In Sheldon v. Sill, for example, the United States Supreme Court upheld the withdrawal of lower federal court jurisdiction over certain diversity cases finding that “Congress may withhold from any court of its creation jurisdiction of any of the enumerated controversies. Courts created by statute can have no jurisdiction but such as the statute confers.” In Ex parte McCardle the Supreme Court affirmed Congress’s power to repeal a statute granting it appellate jurisdiction over certain habeas corpus actions. During Andrew Jackson’s presidency, Congress attempted to restructure the federal judiciary to avoid confirming Roger Taney as a Supreme Court justice. And in what is perhaps the most infamous attempt to restructure the United States Supreme Court, President Franklin Roosevelt launched an ultimately unsuccessful “court packing” scheme to statutorily expand the number of justices in order to place more favorable members on the Court.

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