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Flashcards in Constitutional Law Deck (14)
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What is the source of the Federal Judicial Power?


Article III, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution:

“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.”


What provision of the US Constitution defines the Scope of the Federal Judicial Power?

What types of matters may be heard by the United States Supreme Court?


Article III, Section 2, U.S. Constitution:

The Supreme Court is a court of limited jurisdiction and may only review:

  1. cases, in law and equity, arising under the U.S. Constitution, federal laws, and treaties;
  2. cases affecting ambassadors, public ministers, and consuls;
  3. cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction;
  4. controversies to which the United States shall be a party;
  5. controversies between two (2) or more States;
  6. cases between a state and citizens of another state; and
  7. cases between citizens of different states (diversity of citizenship cases).

What is established by the Eleventh (11th) Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?


The Eleventh Amendment recognizes the states and their governmental immunity. It applies both to suits in diversity as well as those under federal question.


The concept of governmental immunity, or sovereign immunity, means that the government may not be sued without its consent.


What is Sovereign Immunity?



Under the 11th Amendment, the concept of governmental immunity, or sovereign immunity, means that the government may not be sued without its consent.

A state may consent to a suit in federal court if it clearly waives its Eleventh Amendment immunity and does so expressly and unequivocally (or by voluntarily invoking a federal court’s jurisdiction).


Subdivisions of s State (e.g., cities, towns, and counties) do NOT have immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.

Exceptions to the application of the 11th Amendment include:

  1. Suits against state officials for abusing their power in enforcing an unconstitutional state statute;
  2. Federal suits brought by one state against another state, or suits brought by the federal government against a state; AND
  3. most suits for injunctions - e.g., a private citizen may sue to enjoin a state official from acting in violation of the plaintiff’s federal constitutional rights.

Congress may abrogate a state’s immunity where:

  1. the act assets that it is abrogating the state’s immunity; and
  2. Congress enacts the act under a grant of power that may abrogate the state’t immunity.

What does it mean that a federal court only has jurisdiction over “cases” and “controversies”?


Case or Controversy: Article III, Section 2 further limits the jurisdiction of the federal courts to “cases” and “controversies.”

A case or controversy is a real and substantial dispute that touches the legal relations of parties having adverse interests and that can be resolved by a judicial decree of a conclusive character.

The Supreme Court will NOT give advisory opnions to either the president or Congress concerning the constitutionality of proposed action or legislation.

Note that State Courts may be allowed to render advisory opinions.

This does not preclude the Supreme Court from granting Declaratory Judgments.


What is a Declaratory Judgment? May the Supreme Court grant these?


A declaratory judgment is a decision in which the court is requested to determine the legality of proposed conduct without awarding damages or injunctive relief.

However, the plaintiff must meet the case or controversy tests, as well as the RAMPS requirement.

R - Ripeness

A - Abstention / Adequate State Grounds

M - Mootness

P - Political Questions

S - Standing


What is Mootness?


If a controversy or matter has already been resolved, then the case will be dismissed as moot. An actual case or controversy must exist at all stages of the litigation.

A case will NOT be dismissed for mootness IF the injury is “capable of repetition, yet evading review,” meaning that it is a practical impossibility for there to be an adjudication or appellate review before the claims of the plaintiff, or other individuals who are members of the class, become moot.


What is Ripeness?


Whereas mootness bars consideration of claims after they have been resolved, ripeness bars consideration of claims before they have fully developed. Generally, a court may not review or grant a declaratory judgment of a state law before it is enforced or when there is no real threat the statute will ever be enforced.


What is Abstention?


The federal court may abstain, or refuse to hear, a particular case when there are undecided issues of state law presented. The Abstention Doctrine permits the state court to resolve issues of state law, thereby making a decision of the constitutional issue unnecessary.

The federal court may abstain if the meaning of a state law or regulation is unclear. In this situation, the state court might interpret the statute so as to avoid the constitutional issue.

Where state criminal proceedings are pending, the federal court will abstain in a suit seeking an injunction against the state prosecution, absent a showing of bad-faith harassment on the part of the state prosecutors. This principle has been extended to cases:

  1. where state civil proceedings had commenced (seeking an injunction against operation of a state public nuisance statute used to close a pornography movie house); and
  2. where civil contempt hearings had begun.

What is Standing?


Article III requires a person litigating a constitutional question to show:

  1. Injury-in-fact - the plaintiff must show a direct and personal injury, actual or imminent, caused by the action that he is challenging. Where the plaintiff has not suffered any personal injury or harm, he does not have standing.
  2. Causation (the injury was caused by the challenged action); and
  3. Redressability.

True or False: A federal taxpayer has standing to challenge any allegedly unconstitutional federal expenditiure.



As a general rule, federal taxpayers do not have standing to challenge allegedly unconstitutional federal expenditures on the grounds that their injury is comparatively minute and indeterminative, and their interest is too remote.


True or False: Any party may raise the constitutional rights of a third party by standing in his/her shoes.



Under the traditional view, a litigant lacks standing to assert the rights of third parties not before the court. However, the Supreme Court has permitted a party to raise the constitutional rights of a third party where he himself has suffered injury and:

  1. a special relationship exists between the claimant and third party because of the connection between the interests of the claimant and the constitutional right of the third person; OR
  2. the third party is unable or finds it difficult to bring suit on his own behalf.

Does an association, even if it has not personally suffered an injury, have standing to assert the claims of its members?


An association has standing to assert the claims of its members, even if the association has not suffered any injury itself, IF:

  1. the members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right;
  2. the interest asserted is germane to the association’s purpose; AND
  3. neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested would require participation by the individual members in the lawsuit.

What is a “political question” and why is it ineligible to be heard by the federal court?


Federal Courts cannot hear cases involving political questions. A political question is a matter assigned to another branch by the constitution or incapable of a judicial answer.

The Supreme Court set forth the following relevant factors to consider to determine if the political question doctrine applies:

  1. whether there is a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department;
  2. a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it;
  3. the impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion;
  4. the impossibilty of a court’s undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of respect due coordinate branches of government;
  5. an unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made; and
  6. the potential for emabrrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question.


A claim that a state has redrawn its electoral districts in a racially discriminatory manner is not a political question. However, a claim that a state has redrawn electoral districts to benefit one political party is a political question, and therefore, is nonjusticiable. The Supreme Court has ruled that there are manageable judicial standards for deciding claims of race discrimination, but that there are no such standards for deciding when a political party has been unfairly advantaged when electoral disctricts are redrawn.