ArtIII.S2.C1.17.2 Jurisdiction Confined to Civil Cases

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.

Cohens v. Virginia1 includes dicta about whether the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction encompasses suits between a state and its own citizens. Long afterwards, the Supreme Court dismissed an action for want of jurisdiction because the record did not show that the corporation against which the suit was brought was chartered in another state.2 Subsequently, the Court has ruled that it will not entertain an action by a state to which its citizens are either parties of record or would have to be joined because of the effect of a judgment upon them.3 In dictum, Chief Justice John Marshall also indicated in Cohens that perhaps no jurisdiction existed over suits by states to enforce their penal laws.4 Sixty-seven years later, the Court wrote this dictum into law in Wisconsin v. Pelican Ins. Co.5 In Pelican, Wisconsin sued a Louisiana corporation to recover a judgment rendered in its favor by one of its own courts. Relying partly on the rule of international law that the courts of no country execute the penal laws of another; partly upon the 13th section of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which vested the Supreme Court with exclusive jurisdiction of controversies of a civil nature where a state is a party; and partly on Justice Iredell’s dissent in Chisholm v. Georgia,6 where he confined the term “controversies” to civil suits, Justice Gray ruled for the Court that, for purposes of original jurisdiction, “controversies between a State and citizens of another State” are confined to civil suits.7

19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 264, 398–99 (1821). back
Pennsylvania v. Quicksilver Mining Co., 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 553 (1871). back
California v. Southern Pacific Co., 157 U.S. 229 (1895); Minnesota v. Northern Securities Co., 184 U.S. 199 (1902). back
Cohens, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) at 398–99. back
127 U.S. 265 (1888). back
2 U.S. (2 Dall.) 419, 431–32 (1793). back
Wisconsin, 127 U.S. at 289–300. back