ArtIII.S1.9.3 Supreme Court Review of Legislative Court Decisions

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.

In American Ins. Co. v. Canter, the Supreme Court suggested that constitutional courts exercise the judicial power described in Article III of the Constitution, while legislative courts do not and cannot.1 That proposition might be understood to mean that the judgments of legislative courts could never be reviewed by the Supreme Court or another Article III court.2 However, the Court tacitly rejected that view in De Groot v. United States, taking jurisdiction to review a final judgment of the Court of Claims.3

Since the decision in De Groot, the authority of the Court to exercise appellate jurisdiction over legislative courts has turned not upon the nature or status of such courts but rather upon the nature of the proceeding before the lower court and the finality of its judgment. The Supreme Court has declined to review the administrative proceedings of legislative courts or entertain appeals from the advisory or interlocutory decrees of such a body.4 But, in proceedings before a legislative court that are judicial in nature, subject to final judgment, and involve the performance of judicial functions and therefore the exercise of judicial power, the Court has accepted appellate jurisdiction.5

N. Pipeline Constr. Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., 458 U.S. 50, 106 (1982) (White, J., dissenting) (discussing Canter, 26 U.S. (1 Pet.) 511 (1828)). back
Indeed, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney planned to express this view in Gordon v. United States, 69 U.S. (2 Wall.) 561 (1865). The opinion in Gordon was originally prepared by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, but, following his death and reargument of the case, the Court issued the cited opinion. The Court later directed the publishing of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s original opinion at 117 U.S. 697. See also United States v. Jones, 119 U.S. 477, 478 (1886) (noting that the official report of Chief Justice Samuel Chase’s Gordon opinion and the Court’s own record showed differences). back
72 U.S. (5 Wall.) 419 (1867). See also United States v. Jones, 119 U.S. 477 (1886). back
E.g., Postum Cereal Co. v. California Fig Nut Co., 272 U.S. 693 (1927); Fed. Radio Comm’n v. General Elec. Co., 281 U.S. 464 (1930); D.C. Ct. of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). See Glidden Co. v. Zdanok, 370 U.S. 530, 576, 577–579 (1962). back
Pope v. United States, 323 U.S. 1, 14 (1944); D.C. Ct. of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983); Ortiz v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2165 (2018). back