This post on the federal judiciary is part of a series that will make more sense if it is read in order. If you haven’t read the earlier posts in this series, please click here to start with the first one. One reason I’ve broken this series into fairly small parts is that we have a tendency to rush through reading the Constitution and miss a lot of it. I hope the readers of this series will ponder the points in each session. I also hope you will comment on each post as we go along.
Throughout this series on the Constitution, my comments will be in black normal font, and the text of the document will be in this color and italicized.
SECTION 1. The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.
The founding fathers wanted to be sure the judiciary was independent of the other two branches and of any political influences. If judges had finite terms, they would have to run for reelection or curry favor for reappointment, and the founders wanted to avoid either of those situations. The fact their compensation cannot be reduced further insulates them from political influences.
SECTION 2. 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 will be a party;—to Controversies between two or more States;—between a State and Citizens of another State; 10—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.
This section establishes the preeminence of the federal judiciary over any state or local judicial authorities. It also leaves internal judicial matters within a given state to the judiciary of that state. Of course, with improvements in both transportation and communication, less and less commerce takes place strictly within the borders of a state. With more interstate commerce, the power and authority of the federal courts have grown beyond anything the founders might have envisioned.
2 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. 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.
This paragraph establishes a class of litigation that is to be originally filed in the Supreme Court. In all other matters, the Supreme Court becomes involved only when a party appeals the verdict of a state supreme court or an appellate federal court.
3 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.
If I commit a crime, I am guaranteed the right to a trial by jury, and if I commit that crime in Texas, I cannot be tried for it in Vermont.
SECTION 3. 1 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.
This protects citizens from being tried for treason just because one person says so. It also defines treason, although in the last fifty years or so, prosecution of treason has become almost nonexistent. During the era of the Vietnam War, thousands of kids demonstrated in favor of our enemies. Cassius Clay, who changed his name to Mohammed Ali about that time, refused to report when he was drafted. Jane Fonda actually went over to North Vietnam and lent them her support. None of these people who comforted our enemies either directly or by burning their draft cards and refusing to serve were ever prosecuted.
2 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.
This paragraph refers to an old English practice of convicting people of treason without trials. When so convicted, they forfeited all their rights and property, including the right of their heirs to inherit their property or titles. This is strictly forbidden by this provision.
“We’ve given you a republic, if you can keep it.”
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