Fayetteville, TN asked in Constitutional Law and Admiralty / Maritime for Texas

Q: No judicial courts in America since 1789. So what jurisdiction are courts under? And is it legal?

2 Lawyer Answers
Tim Akpinar
Tim Akpinar
  • Maritime Law Lawyer
  • Little Neck, NY

A: Courts are established under Article III of the U.S. Constitution. The jurisdiction of courts could depend on the system they're in - federal court system, state court system, specialized courts, etc. Good luck

John Michael Frick
John Michael Frick
  • Frisco, TX
  • Licensed in Texas

A: The Judiciary Act of 1789 established the federal court system authorized by Article III of the US Constitution. Federal district courts are authorized to exercise admiralty or maritime jurisdiction.

The current Texas state court system was established by the 1891 amendment to the Texas Constitution. While state courts can also hear an admiralty or maritime case, it must apply admiralty or maritime law even if it conflicts with state law (the "reverse-Erie doctrine").

There is a fringe conspiracy theory pushed by the "sovereign citizen" movement that the American courts can only hear cases arising under admiralty or maritime law and lack jurisdiction to hear other types of cases. The specific parameters and reasoning for this bizarre theory has periodically changed over time. In one permutation of the conspiracy theory, the argument is that a flag with a gold fringe denotes exclusively admiralty jurisdiction so a court with such a flag cannot hear other types of cases. Of course, it has been soundly rejected as frivolous by American courts as it has no basis in fact or law ("decor is not a determinant for jurisdiction").

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