The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article III, Section 2, and Clause 2: “In all Cases … in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction….”
“When a sovereign and independent state is a party to a federal case, it is essential that it have the RIGHT to be heard in the highest court in the land.
“This provision was in deference to the anxieties of the states that the federal judiciary would treat the states as subordinate departments of the general government. This provision was to emphasize that the federal government would always be fully cognizant of the sovereign entity represented in each state of the Union. As Alexander Hamilton put it: `In cases in which a state might happen to be a party, it would ill suit its dignity to be turned over to an inferior tribunal’” (As quoted by W. Cleon Skousen in The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 607).
“The Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction is limited to a narrow but important range of cases. The grant of appellate jurisdiction under Article III is far broader, although under the Appellate Jurisdiction, Congress has at least some discretion to modify it. The Court has been assiduous in protecting the Constitution’s core grant of original jurisdiction from congressional expansion. The Court explicitly declared in Marbury v. Madison (1803) that Congress cannot add to the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction. Under Section 13 of the Judiciary At of 1789, Congress had granted the Court mandamus power (the power to order lower courts or executive officials to perform duties required by law). In Marbury, Chief Justice John Marshal held that the mandamus power as applied to executive officials was actually a grant of original jurisdiction, and that Congress could not constitutionally expand the original jurisdiction of the Supreme. Writing for the Court, the Chief Justice declared Section 13 unconstitutional and denied the relief sought. Marshall’s carefully crafted (1) by limiting its scope to the categories of cases contained in the text; and, as a consequence, (2) by shifting its focus from executive matters to suits between states….
“There have been fewer than two hundred state-versus-state original cases in the history of the Republic, less than one per year of constitutional life. There have been only two original cases under the `affecting Ambassadors’ section of the clause. Despite these relatively modest numbers, original jurisdiction continues to serve an indispensable purpose in resolving matters of high moment between states. No forum other than the Supreme Court can act with the authority and dignity necessary to resolve what are in effect diplomatic encounters between contending sovereigns under our constitutional system” (See Paul Verkuil in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, pp.257-258).
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