Section 1 of Article 3 of the Constitution provides for vesting the judicial power of the United States in one supreme court and in such inferior courts as Congress establishes. Section 2 defines the scope of U.S. judicial power and establishes the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The judicial power extends to all cases arising under the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States; to cases concerning foreign diplomats and admiralty practice; and to diversity cases (those between citizens of different states) and cases in which the United States or a state is a party (however, the Eleventh Amendment, adopted in 1798, forbids federal cognizance of cases brought against a state by citizens of another state or by citizens of a foreign state).
The cases in which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction—i.e., where another court need not first consider the controversy—are those in which diplomats or a state is a party; even here, it has been held, inferior courts may enjoy concomitant jurisdiction. In all other federal cases the Supreme Court exercises appellate jurisdiction, but subject to limitations and regulations made by Congress.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.