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The United States Constitution is widely considered to be the most successful national constitution ever formulated. Written in 1787 and ratified in 1788, it is the oldest constitution still in use and contains 7 different sections known as articles and 27 amendments. Article 3 of the US Constitution lays down the framework of the judicial branch of the federal government and contains 3 main sections. Most of the sections of Article 3 are separated into different paragraphs or clauses, each detailing different aspects of judicial and legal structure and procedure.
Section 1 establishes the Supreme Court, which is at the head of the judiciary branch of the federal government, and also allows Congress to establish lower courts as needed. It is important to note that the number of Supreme Court justices is not established in Article 3 of the US Constitution. The current limit of nine Supreme Court justices was established by the Judiciary Act of 1869 and has been the accepted number ever since. If the Judiciary Act of 1869 is repealed by Congress, the wording of Article 3 Section 1 does allow for altering the number of Supreme Court justices.
Section 1 further states that all judges in the Supreme Court and any lower federal courts established by Congress must hold their offices in good behavior. It also entitles them to a salary during their service that cannot be decreased during their time in office. While the US Constitution only establishes compensation for judges during their time of service, the Judiciary Act of 1869 establishes additional compensation options for judges by allowing them to retire with a pension.
Clause 1 establishes the wide-ranging authority of the Supreme Court, as well as any other courts established by Congress. It not only establishes the Supreme Court as the final arbiter in cases regarding the US Constitution but also gives the Supreme Court the final say regarding any law passed in the United States or any treaty established. While the US Constitution can be somewhat ambiguous at times, clause 1 goes on to give a very detailed list of examples of what would fall under the Supreme Court’s authority to leave no doubt as to their role as the final arbiter on all legal matters. They are specifically given the authority in all legal cases surrounding ambassadors, public ministers, maritime jurisdiction, disputes between states, disputes between a state and a citizen of another state, citizens of different states, citizens of the same state, and any controversy where the United States is a party to name some of the stated examples. While the massive scope of authority granted to the Supreme Court may seem concerning at first, a close examination of the first sentence of Clause 1 reveals a limitation on its power. The first sentence specifically states that “The Judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution”. Therefore, the Supreme Court can only interpret the laws of the United States as legal cases arise and are prohibited from creating legal cases themselves to strike down laws or make new ones.
Clause 2 gives the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over any case involving ambassadors or other public ministers, while also having original jurisdiction where one or both of the parties in the legal case comprise a state. In all other legal cases, the Supreme Court functions as an appellate court, with the provision that Congress can make laws to set guidelines regarding when cases can be appealed. While the Constitution does not establish any other courts other than the Supreme Court, the stated appellate nature of the Supreme Court and the provision in Section 1 of Article 3 allowing Congress to establish more courts as needed strongly implies that the founders of the Constitution expected that more courts would be created at the outset of the nation’s founding.
Clause 3 specifies that any trial, other than impeachment, must be held with a jury in the state where the offenses were allegedly committed. If the crimes were not committed in a specific state, the location will be determined by the laws and regulations passed by Congress for such a circumstance.
Clause 1 defines what constitutes treason against the United States and sets guidelines for how an individual can be convicted of this crime. It is clearly stated that treason involves a citizen waging war against the United States, allying with enemies of the United States, or giving any form of aid or help to enemies of the United States. An individual can only be convicted of this crime on the testimony of at least 2 witnesses or by confession in open court. However, the confession in open court can only be voluntary and not compelled, as the 5th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed to the accused, including those accused of treason, the right against self-incrimination. Treason is the only crime expressly defined and addressed in the US Constitution, implying that while the Constitution is the supreme law in the land, it is only a basic foundation. The founders realized that true effective governance of the nation would arise out of the additional laws and measures passed by the federal and state governments. Law and order would begin and end with the Constitution, but every point in between would need to be addressed by future citizens, Congresses, state and local governments, and amendments to the Constitution.
Clause 2 gives Congress the power to determine the punishment of the individual convicted of treason. However, the punishment is limited to only the person who committed the crime, and cannot be imposed on any family, friends, or associates of the guilty individual as long as they weren’t involved in the crime. Finally, while Congress is given the right to confiscate the property of the individual convicted of treason while they are still living, when the convicted person dies, their property must be returned to their next of kin.