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Federal Courts

General information about the United States Federal Court System and resources for performing docket research.


Federal Court Jurisdiction & Standing is a complicated subject.

This is a very simplified version of the rules.

If you need legal advice, consult an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction.


Standing: Are You Eligible to Bring this Case?

  • To have standing, you need:
    • An injury that the law recognizes,
    • A defendant who caused the injury, and
    • A remedy that the court can order to set the matter right

Source: Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 559 (1992)

  • Courts cannot adjudicate a “political question”
    • The Constitution assigns it to another branch
      • For example, in Nixon v. United States, 506 U.S. 224 (1993), the Court held that Congress has the “sole power to try” impeachments.
    • No judicially-discoverable standards

Standing: A Typical Example

  • An injury that the law recognizes
    • George Floyd is dead.
  • A defendant who caused the injury
    • Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck
  • A remedy that the court can order to set the matter right
    • The court can award damages in a civil suit for wrongful death. (Money will not bring back a loved one, but damages in a civil lawsuit will help defray some of the economic harm that resulted from the wrongful death.)

The Floyd family has standing, but to get into federal court, the court needs to have subject-matter jurisdiction.

Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

Subject-Matter Jurisdiction: Generally

The federal courts can only hear cases that the constitution gives it the power to hear.

Subject-Matter Jurisdiction: Federal Question

  • Article III, section 2 of the Constitution says, “The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution [and] the Laws of the United States…”
  • Some common topics for Federal-Question Jurisdiction include:
    • Civil action for deprivation of rights cases (42 U.S.C. § 1983)
      • Yes, the Floyd family may bring their case to federal court.
    • Violation of federal labor laws (e.g., age discrimination)
    • Freedom of Speech (First Amendment)
    • Due Process (Fourth Amendment)
  • A state-law claim arising out of the same set of facts as a federal-question claim may be heard in federal court. This is called supplemental jurisdiction.

Subject-Matter Jurisdiction: Diversity Jurisdiction

Section 2 of the Constitution continues, “between Citizens of different States…” and 28 U.S. Code § 1332 clarifies that two conditions are necessary for diversity jurisdiction to apply:

  • The amount in controversy must be more than $75,000; and
  • One of the parties is a citizen of the United States and none of the opposing parties are citizens of the same state (or lawfully-admitted subjects of a foreign state with legal permanent resident status and a domicile in the same state). DISCLAIMER: This is an extremely simplified version of this rule.