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Federal question jurisdiction

Federal question jurisdiction

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Federal question jurisdiction is a term used in the United States  law of civil procedure
Civil procedure
Civil procedure is the body of law that sets out the rules and standards that courts follow when adjudicating civil lawsuits...

  to refer to the situation in which a United States federal court  has subject-matter jurisdiction
Subject-matter jurisdiction
Subject-matter jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear cases of a particular type or cases relating to a specific subject matter. For instance, bankruptcy court only has the authority to hear bankruptcy cases....

  to hear a civil case
Civil law (common law)
Civil law, as opposed to criminal law, is the branch of law dealing with disputes between individuals or organizations, in which compensation may be awarded to the victim...

  because the plaintiff has alleged a violation of the Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 or law of the United States
Law of the United States
The law of the United States consists of many levels of codified and uncodified forms of law, of which the most important is the United States Constitution, the foundation of the federal government of the United States...

, or treaties
Treaty
A treaty is an express agreement under international law entered into by actors in international law, namely sovereign states and international organizations. A treaty may also be known as an agreement, protocol, covenant, convention or exchange of letters, among other terms...

 to which the United States is a party.

Article III of the United States Constitution permits federal courts to hear such cases, so long as the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 passes a statute to that effect. However, when Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789
Judiciary Act of 1789
The United States Judiciary Act of 1789 was a landmark statute adopted on September 24, 1789 in the first session of the First United States Congress establishing the U.S. federal judiciary...

, which authorized the newly created federal courts to hear such cases, it initially chose not to allow the lower federal courts to possess federal question jurisdiction for fear that it would make the courts too powerful. The Federalists
Federalist Party (United States)
The Federalist Party was the first American political party, from the early 1790s to 1816, the era of the First Party System, with remnants lasting into the 1820s. The Federalists controlled the federal government until 1801...

 briefly created such jurisdiction in the Judiciary Act of 1801, but it was repealed the following year, and not restored until 1875. The statute is now found at : "The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."

Unlike diversity jurisdiction
Diversity jurisdiction
In the law of the United States, diversity jurisdiction is a form of subject-matter jurisdiction in civil procedure in which a United States district court has the power to hear a civil case where the persons that are parties are "diverse" in citizenship, which generally indicates that they are...

, which is based on the parties coming from different states, federal question jurisdiction no longer has any amount in controversy
Amount in controversy
Amount in controversy is a term used in United States civil procedure to denote the amount at stake in a lawsuit, in particular in connection with a requirement that persons seeking to bring a lawsuit in a particular court must be suing for a certain minimum amount before that court may hear the...

 requirement - Congress eliminated this requirement in actions against the United States in 1976, and in all federal question cases in 1980. Therefore, a federal court can hear a federal question case even if no money is sought by the plaintiff
Plaintiff
A plaintiff , also known as a claimant or complainant, is the term used in some jurisdictions for the party who initiates a lawsuit before a court...

.

To meet the requirement of a case "arising under" federal law, the federal question must appear on the face of the plaintiff's complaint
Complaint
In legal terminology, a complaint is a formal legal document that sets out the facts and legal reasons that the filing party or parties In legal terminology, a complaint is a formal legal document that sets out the facts and legal reasons (see: cause of action) that the filing party or parties In...

. There has been considerable dispute over what constitutes a "federal question" in these circumstances, but it is now settled law that the plaintiff cannot seek the jurisdiction of a federal court merely because it anticipates that the defendant
Defendant
A defendant or defender is any party who is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff or pursuer in a civil lawsuit before a court, or any party who has been formally charged or accused of violating a criminal statute...

is going to raise a defense based on the Constitution, or on a federal statute. This "well-pleaded complaint" rule has been criticized by legal scholars, but Congress has so far chosen not to change the law, although the Supreme Court has made clear it is free to do so.