Original jurisdiction determines which court will hear a case first. In this article, we’ll go over the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, federal courts, and state and local courts.

Definition

When you were a child, did you ever do something bad and knew you had to confess to your parents? If you were like most children, you probably knew which of your parents was the most lenient and consequently the one to first tell what happened. By strategically going to this parent, your hope was the overall punishment would be less.

In this example, you were deciding which parent you wanted to have the original jurisdiction over your punishment. In the legal world, the original jurisdiction of a case refers to the court which first hears a case. But unlike our example where you got to pick who heard your case, most of the time you are not allowed to pick which court has original jurisdiction. The original jurisdiction is contrasted with appellate jurisdiction, which is the court that hears a case when a verdict is appealed.

In this article, we will look at the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, how original jurisdiction is determined in federal courts, and how original jurisdiction is determined in state and local courts.

Original Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court

Most of the time, the Supreme Court only hears cases that have already had some decision made in a lower court. For this reason, the Supreme Court is mainly an appellate court. But in section 2 of Article III of the Constitution, it states that the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in cases involving foreign public ministers, consuls, or ambassadors, as well as in cases involving two different states.

A recent example of a 1997 case where the Supreme Court had original jurisdiction was the dispute between New York and New Jersey over whether Liberty Island, home of the Statue of Liberty, is a part of New York or New Jersey. As you can imagine, the amount of tourist money involved would be a severe boost for either state. The Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey had control over all artificially-made parts of Liberty Island, and New York had control over all natural parts of Liberty Island. The ruling actually created more confusion and caused New York and New Jersey to agree to jointly run the island.

Original Jurisdiction in Federal Courts

In Federal Court, original jurisdiction is given to district courts. All civil and criminal trials begin here. Some cases that might be heard in Federal Court include those involving maritime (water-based) issues, issues where the United States government is being sued, issues between a state and a citizen of a different state, issues between citizens of different states, and issues between citizens and foreign states or governments. After a trial is heard at the district level, the decision can be appealed to a higher appellate court.

Original Jurisdiction in State and Local Courts

In the United States, state and local governments usually develop their own judicial systems. For this reason, original jurisdiction can be different from state to state. For example, the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas acts sometimes as the court of original jurisdiction, and sometimes as the court of appeals of lower courts.

A common theme for local judicial systems is to create special courts for specific issues and populations. For example, juvenile court has original jurisdiction over matters involving persons under 18. Family court, likewise, might have original jurisdiction over matters involving divorces and custody of children.

Lesson Summary

The original jurisdiction of a case refers to the court which first hears a case. Most of the time, you are not allowed to pick which court has original jurisdiction. The original jurisdiction is contrasted with appellate jurisdiction, which is the court that hears a case when a verdict is appealed. We looked at the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the federal courts, and how original jurisdiction is determined in state and local courts.

Learning Outcomes

As you finish the video, you should have the ability to:

  • Define original jurisdiction
  • Recognize scenarios where the Supreme Court may have original jurisdiction
  • Recall which courts have original jurisdiction in Federal Court
  • Discuss original jurisdiction in state and local courts