is authority to act, generally in some official
capacity. It presumes constraints on such authority, so that some acts
may be lawful, while others are not.
The traditional breakdown for judicial jurisdictions is into three:
- Subject matter. In Latin, subjectam. The kinds of issues
one is authorized to decide.
- Location, or locum. Confined to a geographic territory.
- Personal, or personam. The individuals or legal roles
subject to the decisions.
These are discussed in a classic treatise, A Dissertation on
the Nature and Extent of the Jurisdiction of the Courts of the United
, Peter Stephen Du Ponceau (1824). It represents the
understanding of jurisdiction in the Founding Era, although written
But a more complete analysis of the concept needs to expand on these.
First, different constitutions have their own jurisdictions. in Social Contract and
I discuss the constitutions of nature, society, the state, and
government. One does not usually think of at least the first two having
"jurisdictions" because they don't have decisionmaking officials, but
individuals and social groups make decisions, albeit informally, and
the general concept needs to cover such situations.
Since each constitution of government has its own jurisdiction, then in
a federal republic like the United States, we have political
jurisdictions for the Union, for each state, and for each local polity,
such as county, legislative district, school district, utility
district, town, et.
Since each political jurisdiction generally divides into legislative,
executive, and judicial branches, we have legislative
jurisdictions. These may be tied together by our original breakdown
into subject, location, and personal. Thus, a legislative body may have
subject jurisdiction to adopt laws that are within the executive
subject jurisdiction of some executives and not others, and within the
judicial subject jurisdiction of some courts and not others. Similarly
for territorial or personal jurisdiction.
But that three-part division doesn't really cover the concept. We need
to extend it, and the obvious way to do that is to a seven-part scheme
based on the basic interrogatives: who, what, where, when, how, why
- Who. This further breaks down into two:
- Personal, or personam, jurisdiction.Who is subject to
the decisions made.
- Official. Who may make the decisions.
- What. This is subject matter.
- Where. This is territorial or locational.
- When. This is temporal jurisdiction. Authority may
constrained to certain periods of time, or certain conditions, such as
during a declared state of war or emergency, during a certain fiscal
period, or during certain hours or days of the week.
- How. This is procedural jurisdiction. Sometimes
called due process. A power not exercised in the correct manner is not
"due", and therefore the act is unlawful.
- Why. This is causative jurisdiction. It is a
constraint on how action or decisionmaking may be motivated or
initiated. It is sometimes combined with due process, but should be
broken out for clarity.
- Whither. This is consequential jurisdiction. it is
authority arising from the results or impacts expected from an exercise
of authority. It is not a power to do whatever might produce a desired
result, but a further constraint that the power encourage or discourage
Now we have a more comprehensive scheme, and can better understand the
concept, and also the Principles of
, in which we divide judicial
decisionmaking into seven main methods: textual, historical,
functional, doctrinal, prudential, equitable
, and natural
The temporal, procedural, causative, and consequential jurisdictions
may seem unfamiliar to many readers, but a little reflection should
show they are familiar, just not as "jurisdictions". This breakdown can
help us understand the bounds on what is and is not constitutional.
For example, the Constitution delegates to Congress a pre-emptive power
to regulate the time, manner, and place of congressional elections
(except the place of senatorial elections). That is the temporal,
procedural, and locational jurisdictions, but also the subject,
congressional elections. It is not the power to regulate who may vote
or conduct an election. It is unclear, but may include the power to
call an election, which is causative. There is an implied consequential
jurisdiction to regulate such elections in a way that serves a
legitimate and reasonable public purpose, such as to make elections
more convenient, fair, and accurate. A statute that required voting to
take place within a 1 nanosecond timeframe, while standing on one's
head, at a polling place on the moon, would obviously be an abuse of
discretion on the part of Congress, but more than that, it would exceed
its consequential jurisdiction. No power delegated is "plenary" within
its "sphere", despite the opinion of Justice Marshall in Gibbons v.
Part of original understanding is that all delegations of power are
constrained to be to make efforts in a reasonable manner for a
legitimate purpose. To do otherwise is not just bad policy. It is
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