The U.S. Constitution – Lesson #15: Supreme Court Jurisdiction & Treason


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So during the last, I stopped about midway through the the Section 2 of Article III.  I totally skipped the parts dealing with the original and appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.  I will address those last two clauses of Article III before I move on to the last section of this article.  And away we go.

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction

This clause of the Constitution lays out the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.  Original jurisdiction is the authority to hear a case before any other court.  The Supreme Court has this authority in only two cases.  The first would be that where an ambassador or any other foreign representative is a party.  My research does not reveal to me why this areas is an important jurisdictional areas for the Supreme Court, but I can fancy a informed guess.  It would appear to me that an foreign representative would be hard pressed to find an unbiased jury in any state where they were charged with a federal crime.  The Supreme Court does not work by jury trials so they can look at the law and not the passions of the states and their citizens.  Also, with the advent of diplomatic immunity, I do not foresee many cases going before the Supreme Court on this issue.

The other area in which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction is when a state is a party to an issue.  This may include if the federal government also has an issue with a state in question.  Though I am not sure why the Supreme Court does not instantly hear the case of U.S. v. Arizona over SB 1070.  If anyone has an answer to that let me know.

In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

The Supreme Court has the authority to review all  other cases with this clause in the Constitution.  The Congress though has the authority to alter this by law.  The case of Marybury v. Madison outlined this principle very well.  The Judiciary Act of 1789 purposely changed the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.  When Marbury then sued to get his judgeship from James Madison at the Supreme Court they struck down his case because the law changed the Constitution; it went against the Constitution by changing the courts original jurisdiction.

The long and short of it is that the Congress has granted the Supreme Court since 1925 to have discretionary jurisdiction over appeals.  They can choose what cases they want to hear on appeal from the state supreme courts and the federal courts of appeals.  Over the course of a year the Supreme Court gets over 7,000 writs of certioari abut only hears and makes judgments on about 100 every session.

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.

This clause in the constitution protects every citizen a right to a jury trial where the crime was committed.  This is also protected in the 6th Amendment to the Constitution.  The restriction on the location of the trial was in direct response to the British sending American colonist oversees for trials in England for crimes committed in the colonies.  This is meant to prevent the government from putting a citizen on trial away from the community in which it was committed.

The last phrase is very interesting for us today.  If a crime was not committed in any state then the trial may be in the location as Congress may direct by law.  I would imagine that this means any terrorist caught oversees could be tried in military tribunals out of the civil courts.  But this also means they could pass a law forcing these trials to be held in our civil court.

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

Treason is the only crime to be mentioned specifically in the Constitution.  It also sets a very high standard by which a person must be convicted of treason.  Why we haven’t tried to convict the American Taliban we have found over the years of treason is beyond me.  I am sure there is enough evidence to do so.

The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

The corruption of blood is an ancient term that most do not understand in our Constitution.  The basic idea behind the term is that the government could not revoke the inheritance of the descendants of a traitor.  Meaning if you inherited something from your dad, who was a traitor, the government could not take it away from you.  To take it a step further, a child could not be punished for the treason acts of their parents.

That does it for Article III.  Next week we will start to look at Article IV that outlines the major parts that make our government a federalist system.  I will also address, that while I may not agree with gay marriage politically or in the Biblical sense, that the Supreme Court must strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.  I’ll see you all next week.

Questions?  Comments?  Concerns?  Class dismissed!

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