Around the time of the ruling in U.S. v. Arizona, I received several e-mails and comments from readers wondering why the District Court had jurisdiction, in light of Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution (emphasis mine):
… 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….
I never posted on it, because I didn’t know the answer, and quick research did not reveal the answer. It seemed too simple, so I figured there must be a catch.
And there is and there isn’t. As explained by Eugene Volokh in a post Why Wasn’t United States v. Arizona Filed in the Supreme Court from the Outset?, it is important to distinguish between exclusive and non-exclusive jurisdiction; qualified cases might be brought in the Supreme Court, but that does not mean that they must.
So it seems pretty clear that the District Court had jurisdiction, but that does not answer the question of whether the case could have been filed in the first instance in the Supreme Court.
For the answer, of sorts, read the Volokh post. The short version is that it is not clear but it appears that 200 years of jurisprudence have pretty much read that constitutional language out of existence.
Who’d have thought that could happen?