prev | next
ArtIII.S1.4.1 Overview of Inherent Powers of Federal 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.

Since the early years of the Republic, the Supreme Court has held that the federal courts possess certain inherent powers that are necessary for the courts to conduct their business and serve their constitutional function. In the 1812 case United States v. Hudson, the Court described inherent judicial powers as “certain implied powers [that] must necessarily result to our Courts of justice from the nature of their institution . . . which cannot be dispensed with in a Court, because they are necessary to the exercise of all others.” 1 These powers are not expressly enumerated in the Constitution, nor are they “immediately derived from statute.” 2 In 1821, in Anderson v. Dunn, the Court explained, “Courts of justice are universally acknowledged to be vested, by their very creation, with power to impose silence, respect, and decorum, in their presence, and submission to their lawful mandates.” 3

Multiple Supreme Court cases have recognized inherent powers of the federal courts,4 including the power to manage court proceedings,5 to issue sanctions or hold parties in contempt for failure to comply with court orders,6 and to issue and vacate judgments.7 The following essays discuss each of those inherent powers in more detail.

11 U.S. 32, 34 (1812). back
Id. See also Link v. Wabash R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630–631 (1962) (Inherent powers are “governed not by rule or statute but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases.” ). back
19 U.S. 204, 227 (1821) back
See Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43–44 (1991) (collecting cases and surveying inherent powers). back
See ArtIII.S1.4.2 Inherent Powers Over Judicial Procedure. back
See ArtIII.S1.4.3 Inherent Powers Over Contempt and Sanctions. back
See ArtIII.S1.4.4 Inherent Power to Issue Judgments. back