Supreme Court trials

I’m reading a book on the jury system (Judging the Jury by Valerie P. Hans and Neil Vidmar, 1986, Plenum Press), and I came across the following in a chapter on the history of the jury system in the U.S.:

Under what circumstances can the U.S. Supreme Court serve as a trial court?

When was the last time a jury was impaneled at the Supreme Court?

Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution extends jurisdiction to (among other things):
[ul][li]cases affecting ambassadors, and other “public Ministers and Consuls”[/li][li]cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction[/li][li]suits between states, or citizens of different states[/li][li]or citizens against another country[/ul][/li]However, as you note, the Court is loath to take on the trial court role. The 11th Amendment makes some changes to this, which I’d have to look up to remember adequately.

Funny you should ask that. I’ve been studying hard for my Fed Courts final the last couple of days. Article III, § 2, Cl. 2 states that the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction (essentially trial court jurisdiction) over cases involving ambassadors, “other Public Ministers and Consuls”, and cases in which states are parties. According to Erwin Chimerinsky, the Court has determined Article III to be a ceiling on its original jurisdiction. In fact, in Marbury v. Madison, the Court said that it would be unconstitutional for its original jurisdiction to be expanded beyond those enumerated types of cases. It would also be unconstitutional to have any portion of this Article III jurisdiction taken away.

To get back to the OP, what all this means is that the Supreme Court may exercise original"trial court" jurisdiction over cases where a foreign ambassador or minister is party to suit or where one state sues another (if I’m remebering Con Law II correctly). According to my Fed Courts professor (who was a clerk to Justice Souter), if the Supreme Court actually exercised original jurisdiction it would appoint a master to serve as a trial judge in the case. You wouldn’t see nine Justices sitting up there making evidentiary rulings, etc. Hope this helps. Now it’s back to my 11th Amendment soverign immunity charts…

You beat me to it, peepthis. True, Art. III, § 2, Cl. 1 (as you’ve mentioned) lists the nine “heads of jurisdiction.” Clause 2 lists the specific cases or controverseys where ONLY the Supreme Court may have original jurisdiction. And I concur that the 11th Amendment changes things around. Trust me, I’m knee deep in it right now. Thank goodness I graduate in less than a week. :slight_smile:

This happened recently in the dispute over Ellis Island. If I recall, the special master conducted hearings on the issue. Not sure that he actually served as a trial judge, nor can I elaborate on what the difference between the two may be. In the end, he submitted his report to the court, which then ruled on the issue, concurring with his findings by a 6-3 vote.

In New Hampshire v Maine(1976), the justices rejected a finding of the special master by accepting a consent decree proposed by the two states.

Eleventh Amendment:

This would appear to take the wind out of cases brought by foreign ambassadors. Cases against such ambassadors would seem to be precluded by diplomatic immunity. Are there any loopholes here, or has that part of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction been completely eliminated?

Second question: Don’t admiralty and maritime courts normally handle their respective cases? Or is this again an instance where Article III is a ceiling on original jurisdiction, which subsequent establishment of maritime courts has effectively eliminated?

Ignatius. Fantastic name. Do you wear a hunting cap and corderoy pants, as well?

Well, it sounds like the Justices of the Supreme Court don’t do any trial work these days, but back in 1794 it was, apparently, the Chief Justice himself who was charging the jury.

When was the last time that the Supreme Court exercised original jurisdiction and didn’t appoint a master to serve as a trial judge?

<<[The 11th Amendment] would appear to take the wind out of cases brought by foreign ambassadors.>>

Nope. The Amendment only applies where the defendant is one of the 50 states, so Kofi Annan can sue his next-door neighbor all he wants.

As to the Supreme Court sitting as a trial court, I’d certainly never heard of it before (although I know they have exclusive jurisdiction in certain matters which might require a trial). I’d be shocked if the Court empaneled a jury any time in the 20th century. As to practices in the 1700’s, they were very irregular. The Court was kind of a joke before John Marshall became Chief Justice in the early 1800’s and bellowed (via Marbury) that he wouldn’t be taking any shit from anyone, even President Jefferson.

–Cliffy, Esq.

Article III, Sec 2 bestows original jurisdiction in SCOTUS, * inter alia * between a suit in law or equity between citizens of different states.

The 11th amendment:

A reading of this amendment does not seem to abrogate the original jurisdiction of SCOTUS between citizens of different states. Yet, by some convoluted reasoning, IIRC, it does. So, a citizen of one state cannot sue a citizen of another state using SCOTUS as a trial court.

Houlihan, why yes I’ve been known to do so. However I don’t live with my mom in New Orleans. I live with two third years in Lexington.

BTW, for that matter a citizen can’t sue his own state using the Supreme Court (SCotUS for us nerds) as a trial court (no offense barbitu8).

You may wish to read Article III, section 2 again, barbitu8. The first paragraph says the judicial power of the United States extends to cases between citizens of different states. However, it is the second paragraph of section 2 that delineates the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction:

(emphasis added)

The 11th Amendment controversy you appear to be remembering is that it has been interpreted as prohibiting federal jurisdiction over suits by citizens against their own states, even though the language strictly bars only suits by citizens of one state against another state.

barbitu8, the Supreme Court has never had original jurisdiction in diversity cases (suits between citizens of different states). Diversity jurisidiction is included in “the judicial power of the United States” but can only vested in the lower federal courts at first instance. The Supreme Court in turn can be given appellate jurisdiction in diversity matters.

With respect to the Eleventh Amendment, we chattered about it last fall in this thread.

You Confederate Dunce, you.

Ummm, what can I say? Guilty as charged.

And by the way, JS, how did you get ahold of my grades?

Yep. Hans v. Louisiana in 1890.

Also yep. Marbury v. Madison.

I missed a Federal Jurisdiction thread!! Damnitt!!