United States Constitution

The United States Constitution was drafted in 1787 and took effect in 1789. It established our present federal government, including the federal judiciary. Pay close attention to Article III, which establishes the judicial power of the United States and describes the kinds of cases that the courts can hear. The Constitution requires a Supreme Court, but it allows Congress to decide whether to create lower courts. Congress has enacted laws creating an extensive federal judiciary with district and appellate courts, which have jurisdiction over cases defined by Congress. Note, too, that judges hold their offices “during good behaviour”—effectively, for life, subject to impeachment (see Article I).

Both federal and state court judges are obligated to take an oath to support the Constitution (see Article VI). And states are required to honor, or give “full faith and credit,” to judicial proceedings in other states (see Article IV).

The Constitution has been amended several times, most notably the first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights, which were approved in 1791. The Fifth and Sixth Amendments provide important criminal trial rights. The Seventh Amendment preserves the right to trial by jury in many civil trials.

A certified version of the United States Constitution can be found at https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CDOC-110hdoc50/pdf/CDOC-110hdoc50.pdf (last visited October 10, 2022).



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Rules and Laws for Civil Actions Copyright © 2024 by Stella Burch Elias; Derek T. Muller; Jason Rantanen; Caroline Sheerin; and Maya Steinitz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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