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United States Constitution | Study Guide

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United States Constitution | Article 3, Sections 1–3 | Summary



Article 3, Section 1

Section 1 establishes the Supreme Court as the holder of judicial power and reiterates Congress's right to establish smaller courts that answer to the Supreme Court. The judges in these courts are paid for their time served.

Article 3, Section 2

The judicial courts deal with cases concerning the Constitution, federal issues, and disputes involving two or more states. In cases directly involving ambassadors or other federal-level public officials, the Supreme Court will have "original jurisdiction," or will be the first court to hear the case. In regard to other cases on the state level, the Supreme Court will have "appellate jurisdiction," meaning they will hear cases that are referred from the lower courts. Except for impeachment trials, all trials will be jury trials and will take place in the state where the crime was committed. If the crime was not committed in a particular state, Congress has the power to decide where the trial will take place.

Article 3, Section 3

Treason is defined as going to war against the United States or giving direct aid to enemies of the United States. To convict someone of treason, there must be testimony from at least two witnesses or an actual confession of guilt. Congress sets the punishment for the guilty party, but their family and friends cannot be included in that punishment.


Article 3 establishes the third major branch of the U.S. government: the judicial branch. The first two articles outline the legislative and executive branches, and this article completes the triad. The framers imbued each of these three branches with the power to keep the other branches in check so one branch cannot take more power than another.

The Supreme Court was intended to rule both on federal-level cases and on cases referred by the lower courts (such as a state court). A case in a lower court can file an appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court.

The clause stating that the Supreme Court may rule on disputes "between a State and Citizens of another State" was later modified by the 11th Amendment, which revoked this power of the Supreme Court.

The treason clause of this article was also later clarified by the addition of the First Amendment, which grants citizens freedom of speech. This means people cannot be convicted of treason for expressing anti-government sentiments or opposing government action or decisions. This is a notable step in history because at the time, many ruling bodies harshly persecuted their citizens for any talk that opposed their rule.

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