Article III: The Judicial Branch

Article III covers the Judicial Branch, The Supreme Court and the Federal court system. It may surprise some that judging a law based on its constitutionality is not among the powers delegated or enumerated to the Supreme Court. That court was not set up as a Judicial Review Board.

Section 1: Establishment of the court system and judges

  • The judicial power is vested in a single Supreme Court
  • Congress may establish inferior Federal courts
  • Judges of all Federal courts and the Supreme Court will hold their  offices during good behavior.
  • Judges will be paid, but cannot receive a pay cut during their tenure.

Section 2: Judicial Power & Authority

  • Judicial Power is extended to:
  • All cases in law and equity that will arise under the Constitution, laws of the United States and treaties made, or that will be made.
  • All cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls
  • All cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction
  • Controversies to which the United States shall be a party
  • Controversies between two or more States
  • Between a State and citizens of another State (Amended by the Eleventh Amendment)
  • Between citizens of different States
  • Between citizens of the same State claiming lands under grants of different States
  • Between a State, or the citizens thereof, and foreign States, citizens or subjects

The Eleventh Amendment establishes Sovereign Immunity. Someone from South Carolina sued the State of Georgia in Federal court, and when the state refused to appear, the court found for the plaintiff. The idea was that if a plaintiff is to sue a state, it has to be done in state court, not Federal court. However, a citizen suing a state may bring it to Federal court on appeal.

  • The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State is party. This means that the Supreme Court can be the first court to hear cases involving these parties.
  • In all other cases, the Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction, in both law and fact with such exceptions and under regulations as Congress makes. This means it that another court has to hear and rule on a case before it can hear it, but Congress can make laws that say that there are certain types of cases the Supreme Court can’t hear.

I probably should have done this in my post on Article II, but here are some definitions:

  1. Consul: an official appointed by the government of one country to look after its commercial interests and the welfare of its citizens in another country.
  2. other public ministers:  international law. This is the general name given to public functionaries who represent their country abroad, such as ambassadors, (q.v.) envoys, (q.v.) and residents.
  • All criminal trials will be by jury, except cases of Impeachment.
  • Criminal trials have to be heard in the State where the crime was committed.
  • If not committed in any state (a territory or Washington DC), the trial will be at such place or places as Congress may have directed by law.

Section 3: Treason

  • Definition of Treason: Levying war upon the United States, Adhering to United States’ enemies, giving the enemy aid and comfort
  • No person will be convicted of treason unless they confess in open court, or if two witnesses can be produced to give testimony to the same overt act.
  • Congress has the power to declare the punishment for treason, however, the punishments shall not extend beyond the convicted’s life, that is to say that any property seized by the government must be returned to the heirs upon the death of the convicted. The corruption of blood and forfeitures were intended to be so harsh, that it acted as a deterrent to treason, often putting heirs and descendants under extreme hardships.  In other words, the penalties for treason are to be applied to the convicted only, not their heirs.

So, what exactly is the corruption of blood? Any Attainder of Treason, which is the declaration of that punishment usually included the death penalty (hanging, drawing and quartering, and beaheading), but also the stripping of any hereditary titles and property, and none could be passed to heirs. This clause was written specifically to allow any property seized by the government to be returned to heirs upon the death of the attainted (stained, or one under attainder). Justice Joseph Story, who served on the Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845 viewed this limitation on Congress as a leniency, preventing Congress from exacting the harshest terms possible.

In this country, the maximum penalty for Treason is death. In most cases, however, the maximum penalty has not been meted out. Those who participated in the Whiskey Rebellion were pardoned by George Washington. Most ex- Confederates were pardoned by Presidential amnesty (under Andrew Johnson, as Lincoln had been murdered months before), except for those rebels who had property worth $20,000 or more. The Rosenberg’s were executed by electric chair for treason and espionage.

There are more cases than just these of people committing treason and being pardoned, or sentences reduced.

This Article is short and to the point. Following the first three Articles setting up the three branches of government, the rest of the Constitution defines more powers, and issues not addressed in the first three Articles, such as the Amendment process and the National Debt.

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