What is Original Jurisdiction?

R.A. Anderson

Original jurisdiction refers to a court’s right to hear a case first. This is in contrast to an appellate court, which reviews judicial decisions from courts of original jurisdiction. Courts with original jurisdictions include local and county trial courts, traffic courts, family courts, juvenile courts, United States (US) federal bankruptcy courts, landlord and tenancy courts, and US tax courts.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Even though it hears appellate matters, the US Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over several types of cases. Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States grants the Supreme Court jurisdiction over cases involving ambassadors, consuls, and public ministers. The court also has jurisdiction in litigation where an individual citizen files a lawsuit against his or her state of residence.

The U.S. Supreme Court also has original jurisdiction granted to it by statute through 28 U.S.C. § 1251. Pursuant to the statute, the Supreme Court may assert jurisdiction over disputes between two US states. It also reinforces the Supreme Court’s right to jurisdiction that is outlined in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution.

Overall, the scope of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction was clarified in the 1803 case Marbury v. Madison. This case arose after William Marbury filed a petition for writ of mandamus directly to the Supreme Court. Since Marbuy was not a public minister, ambassador, or consul, the justices questioned whether the Supreme Court could assert original jurisdiction over his case.

Marbury filed his petition for writ of mandamus directly to the Supreme Court pursuant to the Judiciary Act of 1789. The Judiciary Act of 1789, which was enacted by Congress, expanded the Supreme Court’s power to hear writs of mandamus. This act provided the Supreme Court the power to exert original jurisdiction over cases that would normally be heard by lower courts. In the Marbury decision, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional and that Congress may not restrict nor enlarge the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

Like the Supreme Court, federal courts frequently hear appellate issues but also have original jurisdiction over certain matters. There are two circumstances in which federal courts are permitted original jurisdiction over a case. First, the parties must show that there is either diversity of citizenship, which means that the litigants are citizens of two different US states; alternatively, diversity of citizenship exists when one party is a US citizen and the other is the citizen of a foreign country. The second way in which federal courts can assert jurisdiction is if a federal question is a state. A federal question involves a legal issue rooted in federal or Constitutional law.

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Discussion Comments


@sapphire12, I also think it is good that the supreme court has original and federal jurisdiction over matters involving ambassadors, consuls, and other government officials who could be seen as being more than just members of a certain state, especially since many of the matters in which they would be involved probably surpass the concerns of their locals courts.


I think that original jurisdiction is a really important thing for organizing legal matters, however I do like that the legal system allows for appellate courts when it might be difficult for a defendant to really get fair and equal treatment in a case, such as when a murder is committed in a small town where the defendant might know everyone on the jury. At the same time, I think it i s good that the Supreme Court especially has original jurisdiction in the circumstances that it does. who else might be able to decide fairly on a state versus state case?

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