ArtIII.S2.C1.18.3 Limits on Jurisdiction

Article III, Section 2, Clause 1:

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;—to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States;—between a State and Citizens of another State,—between Citizens of different States,—between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

The Supreme Court has narrowly construed the grant of jurisdiction over suits between a state or its citizens and foreign states or citizens. As in cases involving diversity jurisdiction,1 suits brought in federal court under this provision must clearly state in the record the citizenship of the parties. In 1809, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal court could not take jurisdiction of a case where the record described the plaintiffs as aliens and subjects of the United Kingdom, while the defendants were described as “late of the district of Maryland” but were not designated as citizens of Maryland.2 Twenty years later, the Court narrowly construed Section 11 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which granted the federal courts jurisdiction over cases where an alien was a party, in order to keep it within the limits of this clause.3 The Court held that the judicial power did not apply to private suits in which an alien is a party, unless a citizen is the adverse party.4 The Court extended this interpretation in 1870, holding that if there is more than one plaintiff or defendant in a case, each plaintiff must be competent to sue and each defendant must be liable to suit.5 However, the Court has held that these rules do not preclude a suit between citizens of the same state if the plaintiffs are merely nominal parties and are suing on behalf of an alien.6

The constitutional grant of jurisdiction over suits between a state or its citizens and foreign states or citizens does not apply to suits involving Indian tribes. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, Chief Justice John Marshall concluded that the Cherokee Nation was “a state” in the sense that it was “a distinct political society, separated from others, capable of managing its own affairs and governing itself.” 7 However, he concluded, the tribe was not “a state of the union” ; nor was it a “foreign state” within the meaning of Article III’s text, since it was a part of the United States and dependent upon it.8

Federal diversity cases involve disputes between citizens of different states. See ArtIII.S2.C1.16.1 Overview of Diversity Jurisdiction. back
Hodgson & Thompson v. Bowerbank, 9 U.S. (5 Cr.) 303 (1809). back
Jackson v. Twentyman, 27 U.S. (2 Pet.) 136 (1829). back
Romero v. Int’l Terminal Operating Co., 358 U.S. 354 (1959). back
Coal Co. v. Blatchford, 78 U.S. (11 Wall.) 172 (1871). But see Lacassagne v. Chapuis, 144 U.S. 119 (1892) (holding that a lower federal court had jurisdiction over a proceeding to impeach its former decree, although the parties challenging the prior judgment were both aliens). back
Browne v. Strode, 9 U.S. (5 Cr.) 303 (1809). back
30 U.S. (5 Pet.) 1, 16 (1831). back
Id. at 16–20. back