In the United States
, a federal tribunal may be either a court or another adjudicative body and can be classified as either an Article I tribunal
or an Article III tribunal
, in reference to the article of the Constitution
from which the tribunal's authority stems.
Article III tribunals
Article III tribunals
consist entirely of certain federal courts. These courts are the Supreme Court of the United States
and the inferior courts
established by the Congress
. They constitute the judicial branch
of the government (which is defined by Article III
of the Constitution
Under the Constitution, Congress can vest these courts with jurisdiction to hear cases involving the Constitution or federal law
, as well as certain cases involving disputes between citizens of different states or countries. Article III includes provisions to protect the courts against influence by the other branches of government: judges may not have their salaries reduced during their tenure in office, and their appointment is for life (barring impeachment and removal for bad behavior).
The Supreme Court has ruled that only Article III courts may render final judgments in cases involving life, liberty, and private property rights, with limited exceptions, as discussed below.
Article I tribunals
Article I tribunals
consist of certain federal courts and other forms of adjudicative bodies. These tribunals, as created by Congress, are of various forms, and have differing levels of independence from the executive and legislative branches. They can be Article I Courts (also called legislative courts) set up by Congress to review agency decisions, ancillary courts with judges appointed by Article III appeals court judges, or administrative agencies
. Article I judges are not subject to the Article III protections.
For example, these judges do not enjoy life tenure, and their salaries may be reduced by Congress.
The existence of Article I tribunals has been controversial, and their power has been challenged before the United States Supreme Court
, which has determined that Article I tribunals may exist, but that their power must be circumscribed and, when a potential deprivation of life, liberty, property, or property interest is involved, their decisions are subject to ultimate review in an Article III court.
List of Article I and Article III tribunals
Supreme Court rulings limiting the power of Article I tribunals
The concept of a legislative court was first defined by Chief Justice John Marshall
in the case of American Ins. Co. v. 356 Bales of Cotton
, 1 Pet. 511
(1828), which is sometimes referred to as Canter
, after a claimant in the case. In this case, a court in what was then the Territory of Florida
had made a ruling on the disposition of some bales of cotton that had been recovered from a sunken ship. This clearly fell into the realm of admiralty law
, which is part of the federal judicial power according to Article III of the Constitution. Yet the judges of the Florida territorial court had four-year terms, not the lifetime appointments required by Article III of the Constitution. Marshall's solution was to declare that territorial courts were established under Article I of the constitution. As such, they could not exercise the federal judicial power, and therefore the law that placed admiralty cases in their jurisdiction was unconstitutional.
Ever since Canter, the federal courts have been wrestling with the division between legislative and judicial courts. The Supreme Court most thoroughly delineated the permissible scope of Article I tribunals in Northern Pipeline Construction Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., 458 U.S. 50 (1982), striking down the statute that created the original U.S. bankruptcy court. The Court noted in that opinion that the framers of the Constitution had developed a scheme of separation of powers which clearly required that the judicial branch be kept independent of the other two branches via the mechanism of lifetime appointments. However, the Court noted three situations (based on historical understanding) in which Congress could give judicial power to non-Article III courts:
- Courts for non-state areas (U.S. territories and the District of Columbia) in which Congress is acting as both local and national government.
- Military courts (or courts-martial), under the historical understanding and clearly laid out exceptions in the Constitution.
- Legislative courts established under the premise that, where Congress could have simply given the Executive Branch the power to make a decision, it has the lesser power to create a tribunal to make that decision. This power is limited to adjudication of public rights, such as the settling of disputes between the citizens and the government.
The Court also found that Congress has the power under Article I to create adjunct tribunals, so long as the “essential attributes of judicial power” stay in Article III courts. This power derives from two sources. First, when Congress creates rights, it can require those asserting such rights to go through an Article I tribunal. Second, Congress can create non-Article III tribunals to help Article III Courts deal with their workload, but only if the Article I tribunals are under the control of the Article III Courts. The bankruptcy courts, as well as the tribunals of United States magistrate judges who decide some issues in the district courts, fall within this category of “adjunct” tribunals. All actions heard in an Article I tribunal are subject to de novo review in the supervising Article III court, which retains the exclusive power to make and enforce final judgments.
The Supreme Court later noted in Commodity Futures Trading Commission v. Schor, 478 U.S. 833 (1986), that parties to litigation could voluntarily waive their right to an Article III tribunal, and thereby submit themselves to a binding judgment from an Article I tribunal.
- The section on Article III is downloadable as a 1.1 MB PDF at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/constitution/pdf/con006.pdf.
- Page 604 of this work asserts that the concept of a legislative court first appears in Canter.