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ArtIII.S1.8.1 Overview of Establishment of Article III Courts

Article III, Section 1:

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. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

The Constitution established one federal court: the U.S. Supreme Court.1 In lieu of mandating the creation other adjudicative bodies through the nation’s founding document, the Framers vested the federal judicial power in the Supreme Court and “such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish,” 2 and authorized Congress, in its discretion, to “constitute Tribunals inferior to the [S]upreme Court.” 3 In the years following the ratification of the Constitution, Congress has regularly exercised its power to create different federal tribunals that adjudicate a variety of legal disputes.

As authorized by the Constitution, Congress has established federal district and appellate courts and structured the Supreme Court. Congress has also periodically created courts under Article III to exercise specialized jurisdiction over specific categories of cases.4 All of these courts, sometimes called “Article III courts” or “constitutional courts,” share three key attributes.5 First, they exercise the “judicial power of the United States” to resolve “cases” and “controversies” falling within the constitutional grant of federal court jurisdiction.6 Second, they are staffed by judges who hold their offices “during good Behaviour,” 7 which the Supreme Court has interpreted to guarantee life tenure “subject only to removal by impeachment.” 8 Third, Article III judges’ compensation cannot be “diminished during their Continuance in Office.” 9

The following essays discuss Congress’s power to establish and abolish10 Article III courts, including the lower courts11 and courts of special jurisdiction,12 and Congress’s power to structure the Supreme Court.13 Other essays explore Congress’s authority to establish non-Article III courts14 and Congress’s authority to regulate the existing federal courts.15

U.S. Const. art. III, § 1. back
Id. back
U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 9. For additional discussion of the Framers’ views on legislative power to establish federal courts, see ArtIII.S1.8.2 Historical Background on Establishment of Article III Courts. back
In addition, Congress has created non-Article III tribunals, sometimes called “Article I courts” or “legislative courts,” staffed by personnel such as administrative law judges, military judges, and federal magistrates. See ArtIII.S1.9.1 Overview of Congressional Power to Establish Non-Article III Courts. back
When determining whether a court is a constitutional court, the Supreme Court has looked at how Congress structures the court and whether the structure of the court adheres to basic requirements of Article III, rather than relying on how Congress labels the court. See Glidden v. Zdanok, 370 U.S. 530 (1962) (Harlan, J.) (plurality opinion). back
U.S. Const. art. III, § 1. The Supreme Court has interpreted the “case or controversy” requirement of Article III to impose certain rules of justiciability, such as a prohibition on advisory opinions, requirements of standing and ripeness, and limitations on the ability of federal courts to decide “political questions.” See generally Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750 (1984); see also ArtIII.S2.C1.2 Historical Background on Cases or Controversies Requirement. back
U.S. Const. art. III, § 1. back
N. Pipeline Constr. Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., 458 U.S. 50, 59 (1982) (plurality opinion); United States ex rel. Toth v. Quarles, 350 U.S. 11, 16 (1955) (stating that Article III “courts are presided over by judges appointed for life, subject only to removal by impeachment” ); see also ArtIII.S1.10.2.1 Overview of Good Behavior Clause. back
U.S. Const. art. III, § 1; see also ArtIII.S1.10.3.1 Historical Background on Compensation Clause. back
See ArtIII.S1.8.5 Congressional Power to Abolish Federal Courts. back
See ArtIII.S1.8.4 Establishment of Inferior Federal Courts. back
See ArtIII.S1.8.6 Courts of Specialized Jurisdiction and Congress. back
See ArtIII.S1.8.3 Supreme Court and Congress. back
See ArtIII.S1.9.1 Overview of Congressional Power to Establish Non-Article III Courts. back
See ArtIII.S1.5.1 Overview of Congressional Control Over Judicial Power; ArtIII.S1.10.2.1 Overview of Good Behavior Clause; ArtIII.S2.C2.6 Exceptions Clause and Congressional Control over Appellate Jurisdiction. back