CRS Annotated Constitution
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Express Constitutional Restrictions on Congress.—“[T]he Constitution is filled with provisions that grant Congress or the States specific power to legislate in certain areas;” Justice Black said in a different context, “these granted powers are always subject to the limitations that they may not be exercised in a way that violates other specific provisions of the Constitution.”1121 The Supreme Court has had no occasion to deal with this principle in the context of Congress’ power over its jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the inferior federal courts, but the passage of the Portal–to–Portal Act1122 presented the lower courts such an opportunity. The Act extinguished back–pay claims growing out of several Supreme Court interpretations of the Fair Labor Standards Act; it also provided that no court should have jurisdiction to enforce any claim arising from these decisions. While some district courts sustained the Act on the basis of the withdrawal of jurisdiction, this action was disapproved by the Courts of Appeals which indicated that the withdrawal of jurisdiction would be ineffective if the extinguishment of the claims as a substantive matter was invalid. “We think . . . that the exercise by Congress of its control over jurisdiction is subject to compliance with at least the requirements of the Fifth Amendment. That is to say, while Congress has the undoubted power to give, withhold, and restrict the jurisdiction of the courts other than the Supreme Court, it must not so exercise that power as to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due[p.792]process of law or to take private property without just compensation.”1123
Conclusion.—There thus remains a measure of doubt that Congress’ power over the federal courts is as plenary as some of the Court’s language suggests it is. Congress has a vast amount of discretion in conferring and withdrawing and structuring the original and appellate jurisdiction of the inferior federal courts and the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court; so much is clear from the practice since 1789 and the holdings of many Court decisions. That its power extends to accomplishing by means of its control over jurisdiction actions which it could not do directly by substantive enactment is by no means clear from the text of the Constitution nor from the cases.
Problems Raised by Concurrency
The Constitution established a system of government in which total power, sovereignty, was not unequivocally lodged in one level of government. In Chief Justice Marshall’s words, “our complex system [presents] the rare and difficult scheme of one general government, whose actions extend over the whole, but which possesses only certain enumerated powers, and of numerous state governments, which retain and exercise all powers not delegated to the Union. . . .” Naturally, in such a system, “contests respecting power must arise.”1124 Contests respecting power may frequently arise in a federal system with dual structures of courts exercising concurrent jurisdiction in a number of classes of cases. Too, the possibilities of frictions grow out of the facts that one set of courts may interfere directly or indirectly with the other through injunctive and declaratory processes, through the use of habeas corpus and removal to release persons from the custody of the other set, and through the refusal by state courts to be bound by decisions of the United States Supreme Court. The relations between federal and state courts are governed in part by constitutional law, with respect, say, to state court interference with federal courts and[p.793]state court refusal to comply with the judgments of federal tribunals, in part by statutes, with respect to the federal law generally enjoining federal–court interference with pending state court proceedings, and in part by self–imposed rules of comity and restraint, such as the abstention doctrine, all applied to avoid unseemly conflicts, which, however, have at times occurred.
Subject to congressional provision to the contrary, state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over all the classes of cases and controversies enumerated in Article III, except suits between States, those to which the United States is a party, those to which a foreign state is a party, and those within the traditional admiralty jurisdiction.1125 Even within this last category, however, state courts, though unable to prejudice the harmonious operation and uniformity of general maritime law,1126 have concurrent jurisdiction over cases that occur within the maritime jurisdiction when such litigation assumes the form of a suit at common law.1127 Review of state court decisions by the United States Supreme Court is intended to protect the federal interest and promote uniformity of law and decision relating to the federal interest.1128 The first category of conflict surfaces here. The second broader category arises from the fact that state interests, actions, and wishes, all of which may at times be effectuated through state courts, are variously subject to restraint by federal courts. Although the possibility always existed,1129 it became much more significant and likely when, in the wake of the Civil War, Congress bestowed general fed[p.794]eral question jurisdiction on the federal courts,1130 enacted a series of civil rights statutes and conferred jurisdiction on the federal courts to enforce them,1131 and most important of all proposed and saw to the ratification of the three constitutional amendments, especially the Fourteenth, which made subject to federal scrutiny an ever– increasing number of state actions.1132
The Autonomy of State Courts
Noncompliance With and Disobedience of Supreme Court Orders by State Courts.—The United States Supreme Court when deciding cases on review from the state courts usually remands the case to the state court when it reverses for “proceedings not inconsistent” with the Court’s opinion. This disposition leaves open the possibility that unresolved issues of state law will be decided adversely to the party prevailing in the Supreme Court or that the state court will so interpret the facts or the Court’s opinion to the detriment of the party prevailing in the Supreme Court.1133 When it is alleged that the state court has deviated from the Supreme Court’s mandate, the party losing below may appeal again1134 or she may presumably apply for mandamus to compel compliance.1135 Statutorily, the Court may attempt to overcome state recalcitrance by a variety of specific forms of judgment.1136 [p.795]If, however, the state courts simply defy the mandate of the Court, difficult problems face the Court, extending to the possibility of contempt citations.1137
The most spectacular disobedience of federal authority arose out of the conflict between the Cherokees and the State of Georgia, which was seeking to remove them and seize their lands, with the active support of President Jackson.1138 In the first instance, after the Court had issued a writ of error to the Georgia Supreme Court to review the murder conviction of a Cherokee, Corn Tassel, and after the writ was served, Corn Tassel was executed on the day set for the event, contrary to the federal law that a writ of error superseded sentence until the appeal was decided.1139 Two years later, Georgia again defied the Court when in Worcester v. Georgia,1140 it set aside the conviction of two missionaries for residing among the Indians without a license. Despite the issuance of a special mandate to a local court to discharge the missionaries, they were not released, and the State’s governor loudly proclaimed resistance. Consequently, the two remained in jail until they agreed to abandon further efforts for their discharge by federal authority and to leave the State, whereupon the governor pardoned them.
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