What Can the Supreme Court Decide On?

Congress can limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme (and other federal) Courts. But what happens if the Supreme Court has already issued a ruling on a particular issue? Is it too late for Congress to remove jurisdiction? Historical precedent--including the Supreme Court's willingness to abide by Congress decision--says it's not too late.

Article III, Section 2 of the United States Constitution says:

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

This means that in certain rare cases, the Supreme Court can hear an 'original case', without it having to have been heard first in a lower court and then appealed to the Supreme Court. Most issues that the Supreme Court hears, though, must have been first appealed from a lower court. This also means that Congress can limit the Court's ability to hear appealed cases. It has done this a handful of times in the past. In the case known as Ex Parte McCardle, Congress had originally created a law

... [in] 1867 that allowed federal judges to issue writs of habeas corpus and hear appeals from circuit courts. After the case was argued but before an opinion was delivered, Congress repealed the statute.

At the time, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase said of the Congress action

We are not at liberty to inquire into the motives of the legislature. We can only examine into its power under the Constitution, and the power to make exceptions to the appellate jurisdiction of this court is given by express words.

But what about an issue that the Supreme Court has already ruled on? Can the Congress limit jurisdiction over that issue? I have found at least one precedent that says yes.

Congress enacted the Portal to Portal Act of 1947 in an effort to correct what it thought was an egregious decision that the Supreme Court had made, wherein workers were entitled to receive huge amounts of back-pay. The essence of the law was to

...returns the parties to the relative positions they occupied prior to...the decisions of the Supreme Court.

I was recently challenged on my interpretation that Congress could remove jurisdiction from the Supreme Court regarding abortion, effectively returning jurisdiction to the States and overturning Roe v. Wade. These actions by congress (and there are many others) seem to corroborate my point of view.


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