Intelligence Law School - Course 1: Lesson 3.4.4 Article III

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3.4 The Articles

3.4.4 Article III

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3.4.4 Article III

The last of the 3 critically important Articles in the U.S. Constitution is Article III.

Article III establishes the Judicial Branch and enumerates all of its powers.[1]

Ø  The Role of Congress in Structuring the Federal Judiciary: Article III, Section 1 starts out by vesting the judicial power of the United States in one Supreme Court and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.

o   So, there is one Supreme Court and Congress gets to shape the rest of the courts in the federal judiciary.

Ø  “Judicial Power” Defined: The “judicial power” of the United States is vested in the Supreme Court and lower courts created by Congess.

o   What does Article III mean by “judicial power?”

o   “Judicial power” is the authority of courts to hear cases involving legal and factual disputes and to issue binding judgments.[2]

o   “Judicial power” also implies the authority of courts to enforce their rulings against the parties through ancillary measures like contempt sanctions.[3]

Ø  Judicial Review: American courts also have the power of judicial review.[4]

o   Judicial review is the power of courts to review the constitutionality of any actions carried out by the other two branches of government.[5]

o   Judicial review means that federal courts have the power to decide  cases that challenge the constitutionality of acts of Congress or the President and issue a holding that is legally binding on them. 

o   Judicial review comes from a landmark Supreme Court case called Marbury v. Madison, decided back in 1803.[6]

o   The breadth of the judicial review power is broader in the United States than many other countries.

o   Some other countries limit the power of judicial review to special constitutional courts, rather than vesting it in all national courts as we do in the United States.

o   Because federal judges are unelected and enjoy lifetime tenure, the power of judicial review is an essential bulwark that protects individual rights from abuse by majority influences.

o   The other two branches are elected, which often makes them overly susceptible to the hysteria of public opinion at any given point in time.

o   Having a politically-insulated judiciary with the power to enforce constitutional rights is what keeps Americans free in those rare situations where current events or public pressure convince the other two branches to wish to violate them.

o   I talk more about the nature of judicial review later on in Lesson 6.

o   For now, though, that’s all I’m going to say about Article III.



[1] See Encyclopedia Britannica, Constitution of the United States of America (Student and Home Edition 2009).

[2] Black’s Law Dictionary 851 (7th ed. 1999).

[3] See Congressional Research Serv., The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, Article III, S. Doc. No. 108-17 (2002), available at (“Judicial power is the power ‘‘of a court to decide and pronounce a judgment and carry it into effect between persons and parties who bring a case before it for decision.’’ [Citing JUSTICE SAMUEL MILLER, ON THE CONSTITUTION 314 (1891).] It is ‘‘the right to determine actual controversies arising between diverse litigants, duly instituted in courts of proper jurisdiction.’’ [Citing Muskrat v. United States, 219 U.S. 346, 361 (1911).]”).

[4] Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803).

[5] Black’s Law Dictionary 852 (7th ed. 1999).

[6] Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803).


© 2012 David Alan Jordan. All rights reserved.