The Court System

The Supreme Court Term

What type of jurisdiction does the U.S. Supreme Court have?

The U.S. Supreme Court has appellate—not original—jurisdiction over most cases that it hears. This means that the vast majority of cases that come before the high court are heard in various lower courts in the federal and state court systems. These cases are then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in only certain types of cases—those in which states sue each other or in cases involving foreign diplomats. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court exercised its original jurisdiction to hear a border dispute between two states in the case of Virginia v. Tennessee (1893).

Appellate jurisdiction means that a higher court has the power to review a lower court ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court normally hears cases from state high courts, the federal circuit court of appeals and sometimes from special rulings by three-judge federal district court rulings.


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