Courts of Specialized Jurisdiction

Courts of Specialized Jurisdiction

By virtue of its power “to ordain and establish” courts, Congress has occasionally created courts under Article III to exercise a specialized jurisdiction. These tribunals are like other Article III courts in that they exercise “the judicial power of the United States,” and only that power, that their judges must be appointed by the President and the Senate and must hold office during good behavior subject to removal by impeachment only, and that the compensation of their judges cannot be diminished during their continuance in office. One example of such courts was the Commerce Court created by the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910,41 which was given exclusive jurisdiction of all cases to enforce orders of the Interstate Commerce Commission except those involving money penalties and criminal punishment, of cases brought to enjoin, annul, or set aside orders of the Commission, of cases brought under the act of 1903 to prevent unjust discriminations, and of all mandamus proceedings authorized by the act of 1903. This court actually functioned for less than three years, being abolished in 1913, as was mentioned above.

41 Ch. 309, 36 Stat. 539.

Another court of specialized jurisdiction, but created for a limited time only, was the Emergency Court of Appeals organized by the Emergency Price Control Act of January 30, 1942.42 By the terms of the statute, this court consisted of three or more judges designated by the Chief Justice from the judges of the Untied States district courts and circuit courts of appeal. The Court was vested with jurisdiction and powers of a district court to hear appeals filed within thirty days against denials of protests by the Price Administrator and with exclusive jurisdiction to set aside regulations, orders, or price schedules, in whole or in part, or to remand the proceeding, but the court was tightly constrained in its treatment of regulations. There was interplay with the district courts, which were charged with authority to enforce orders issued under the Act, although only the Emergency Court had jurisdiction to determine the validity of such orders.43

Other specialized courts are the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which is in many respects like the geographic circuits. Created in 1982,44 this court has exclusive jurisdiction to hear appeals from the United States Court of Federal Claims, from the Federal Merit System Protection Board, the Court of International Trade, the Patent Office in patent and trademark cases, and in various contract and tort cases. The Court of International Trade, which began life as the Board of General Appraisers, became the United States Customs Court in 1926, and was declared an Article III court in 1956, came to its present form and name in 1980.45 The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, staffed by federal judges from other courts, is authorized to transfer actions pending in different districts to a single district for trial.46

42 56 Stat. 23, §§ 31-33.

43 In Lockerty v. Phillips, 319 U.S. 182 (1943), the limitations on the use of injunctions, except the prohibition against interlocutory decrees, was unanimously sustained.

A similar court was created to be utilized in the enforcement of the economic controls imposed by President Nixon in 1971. Pub. L. 92-210, 85 Stat. 743, 211(b). Although controls ended in 1974, see 12 U.S.C. § 1904 note, Congress continued the Temporary Emergency Court of Appeals and gave it new jurisdiction. Emergency Petroleum Allocation Act of 1973, Pub. L. 93-159, 87 Stat. 633, 15 U.S.C. § 754, incorporating judicial review provisions of the Economic Stabilization Act. The Court was abolished, effective March 29, 1993, by P. L. 102-572, 106 Stat. 4506.

Another similar specialized court was created by § 209 of the Regional Rail Reorganization Act, P. L. 93-226, 87 Stat. 999, 45 U.S.C. § 719, to review the final system plan under the Act. Regional Rail Reorganization Act Cases (Blanchette v. Connecticut Gen. Ins. Corp.), 419 U.S. 102 (1974).

44 By the Federal Courts Improvement Act of 1982, P. L. 97-164, 96 Stat. 37, 28 U.S.C. § 1295. Among other things, this Court assumed the appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Claims and the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals.

45 Act of Oct. 10, 1980, 94 Stat. 1727.

46 28 U.S.C. § 1407.

To facilitate the gathering of foreign intelligence information, through electronic surveillance, search and seizure, as well as other means, Congress authorized in 1978 a special court, composed of seven regular federal judges appointed by the Chief Justice, to receive applications from the United States and to issue warrants for intelligence activities.47

Even greater specialization was provided by the special court created by the Ethics in Government Act;48 the court was charged, upon the request of the Attorney General, with appointing an independent counsel to investigate and prosecute charges of illegality in the Executive Branch. The court also had certain supervisory powers over the independent counsel.

47 P. L. 95-511, 92 Stat. 1788, 50 U.S.C. § 1803.

48 Ethics in Government Act, Title VI, P. L. 95-521, 92 Stat. 1867, as amended, 28 U.S.C. §§ 591-599. The court is a “Special Division” of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; composed of three regular federal judges, only one of whom may be from the D. C. Circuit, who are designated by the Chief Justice. 28 U.S. C. § 49. The constitutionality of the Special Division was upheld in Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654, 670-685 (1988). Authority for the court expired in 1999 under a sunset provision. Pub. L. 103-270, § 2, 108 Stat. 732 (1994).

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Last modified: June 9, 2014