Congress and the Judicial Branch: Jurisdiction

Judiciary Act of 1801, April 8, 1800

The Constitution’s framers created an independent judicial branch, but Congress and the president retain significant power to shape the courts.

The Constitution stipulates that “the judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may . . . establish,” but leaves the details of organization and authority for Congress to decide through legislation. How large is the Supreme Court and what is its jurisdiction? What kinds of cases must it hear? How many inferior courts are needed? Congress has used its constitutional authority to address these essential questions.