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Article 3 of the Constitution

An american flag alongside Article 1 of the United States Constitution.

Article 3 – Judicial

Article 3, 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.

Article 3, 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 shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States;—between a State and Citizens of another State;  —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.
  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.
  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.

Article 3, 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.
  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.

Article I and Article II dealt with the executive and legislative branches. 

But, what is Article 3 of the Constitution?

Article 3 covers the judicial system. That means that it deals with the courts and law and order.

Read on to find out how Article 3 acts as such a strong check and balance to avoid corruption.

Article 3 Summary

Article 3 of the US Constitution lays down the framework of the federal government’s judicial branch and contains three main sections.

The sections of Article III are separated into clauses that detail different aspects of judicial power and legal structure and procedure.

Article 3, Section 1

Article 3, Section 1 of the Constitution establishes the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is at the head of the judicial branch of the federal government. It also allows Congress to establish lower courts as needed.

US Supreme Court Building
Article 3 of the United States Constitution establishes the Supreme Court.

Judiciary Act of 1869

It is important to note that Article III of the United States Constitution does not establish the number of Supreme Court justices. 

However, the Judiciary Act of 1869 established the current limit of nine Supreme Court justices and has been the accepted number since.

If Congress repeals the Judiciary Act of 1869, the wording of Article 3, Section 1 allows for altering the number of Supreme Court justices.

US Capitol Building
The number Supreme Court justices can only be altered if certain conditions are met.

Government offices must be held in good order

Section 1 further states that all judges in the Supreme Court and any federal judges in lower federal courts established by Congress must hold their offices in good order. 

It also entitles them to a salary during their service that cannot be decreased during their time in office.

Compensation for Judges

While the United States Constitution only establishes compensation for judges during their service, the Judiciary Act of 1869 establishes additional compensation options for judges by allowing them to retire with a pension.

compensation for judges
Compensation for judges can not be decreased during their service.

Article 3, Section 2

Clause 1

Article III, Section 2, Clause 1 establishes the wide-ranging authority of the Supreme Court and any other federal courts established by Congress.

It establishes the Supreme Court as the final arbiter in cases regarding the US Constitution. It also gives the Supreme Court the final say regarding any law passed in the United States or any treaty established.

Section 2, Clause 1 gives 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.

The Supreme Court is expressly 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
  • Any controversy where the United States is a party
Coast Guard helicopter
The Supreme Court has authority in all legal cases regarding maritime jurisdiction.

While the massive scope of authority granted to the Supreme Court and its original jurisdiction may seem concerning at first, a close examination of the first sentence of Section 2, Clause 1 reveals a limitation on its power.

The first sentence states explicitly 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

Article 3, Section 2, Clause 2 gives the Supreme Court jurisdiction over any case involving ambassadors or other public ministers.

Ambassadors are generally appointed by the Supreme Court officially.

It also gives jurisdiction where one or both parties in the legal case comprise a state. 

In all other legal cases, the Supreme Court functions as an appellate court, providing that Congress can make laws to set guidelines regarding when cases can be appealed.

While the United States Constitution does not establish any other courts other than the Supreme Court, it does state the appellate nature of the Supreme Court. 

There is also a provision in Section 1 of Article 3 allowing Congress to establish more courts as needed. 

These two things strongly imply that the founders of the Constitution expected that more courts would be created at the outset of the nation’s founding.

Clause 3

Article 3, Clause 3 specifies that any trial other than impeachment must be held with a jury in the state where the offenses were allegedly committed.

Photo of a jury
Clause 3 of Article 3, Section 2 deals with jury trials.

If the crimes were not committed in a specific state, the location would be determined by federal law and regulations passed by Congress for such a circumstance.

Article 3, Section 3

Clause 1

Article 3, Section 3, Clause 1 defines what constitutes treason against the United States and sets guidelines for how an individual shall be convicted of this crime.

What is treason?

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.

Two witnesses needed for a conviction of treason

An individual can only be convicted of this crime on the testimony of at least two witnesses or by confession in open court.

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 of the land, it is only a basic foundation.

Treason is specifically mentioned in the Constitution.

The need to establish additional laws

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. Still, future citizens, Congresses, state and local governments, and amendments to the Constitution would need to address every point in between.

Clause 2

Article 3, Section 3, 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. It 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 individual’s property convicted of treason while they are still living when the convicted person dies, their property must be returned to their next of kin.

Article 3 Quiz

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Article 3 Quiz

2 Responses

  1. For the balance of power between the three branches of government, for any Congressional members to blatantly plan to change the “lean” of the Supreme Court from left to right or right to left, undermines the balance of power & checks/balances established by our Constitution! Following each Presidential election we can anticipate to possibility of another change in the size of the Supreme Court to flip the power to the “new majority” in Congress. How do we stop either majority party in Congress from attempting to “pack the Supreme Court?”

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