The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a certain type of case. It also is used as a synonym for venue, meaning the geographic area over which the court has territorial jurisdiction to decide cases.

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The extent or scope of a court's authority to hear and decide a case properly brought to it is its jurisdiction. There are two types of jurisdiction: original and appellate.

Original jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear and decide a case for the first time. In general, courts of original jurisdiction are minor courts or trial courts. Federal district courts, for example, are courts of original jurisdiction. Article 3, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution states that the U.S. Supreme Court has original jurisdiction only in suits involving ambassadors from other countries and in suits to which a state of the United States is a party. For instance, the Court had original jurisdiction in Georgia v. South Carolina (1990), a case involving the correct location of a boundary between the two states. In all cases except the types listed above, the U.S. Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction, which is the authority of a court to hear and decide cases brought on appeal from a lower court.

Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court is primarily an appellate court. Throughout its history, the Court has exercised original jurisdiction in fewer than 160 cases. Article 3, Section 2, of the Constitution provides that “the Supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to law and fact” with only a few exceptions. However, Article 3 also says that Congress has the power to regulate the nature and scope of the Supreme Court's power of appellate jurisdiction. Using this power, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1925 to give greater authority to the Court to decide which cases it would accept or reject on appeal from lower courts. The result was to greatly reduce the number of cases in the Court's caseload.

Duhaime Legal Dictionary

Refers to a court's authority to judge over a dispute usually acquired in one of three ways:

over acts committed in a defined territory (eg. the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Australia is limited to acts committed or originating in Australia)

over certain types of cases (the jurisdiction of a bankruptcy court is limited to bankruptcy cases), or

over certain persons (a military court has jurisdiction limited to actions of enlisted personnel).

Encyclopedia Britannica

Authority of a court to hear and determine cases. This authority is constitutionally based. Examples of judicial jurisdiction are: appellate jurisdiction, in which a superior court has power to correct legal errors made in a lower court; concurrent jurisdiction, in which a suit might be brought to any of two or more courts; and federal jurisdiction. A court may also have authority to operate within a certain territory. Summary jurisdiction, in which a magistrate or judge has power to conduct proceedings resulting in a conviction without jury trial, is limited in the U.S. to petty offenses.


1: the power, right, or authority to interpret, apply, and declare the law (as by rendering a decision)

2: the authority (as of a state) to govern or legislate

3: the limits or territory within which authority may be exercised

Law.com Dictionary

The authority given by law to a court to try cases and rule on legal matters within a particular geographic area and/or over certain types of legal cases. It is vital to determine before a lawsuit is filed which court has jurisdiction. State courts have jurisdiction over matters within that state, and different levels of courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits involving different amounts of money. For example, Superior Courts (called District or County Courts in several states) generally have sole control of lawsuits for larger sums of money, domestic relations (divorces), probate of estates of deceased persons, guardianships, conservatorships and trials of felonies. In some states (like New York) probate and certain other matters are within the jurisdiction of so-called Surrogate Courts. Municipal courts (or other local courts) have jurisdiction over cases involving lesser amounts of money, misdemeanors (crimes not punishable by state prison), traffic matters and preliminary hearings on felony charges to determine if there is sufficient evidence to warrant a trial by the Superior Court. Some states have police courts to handle misdemeanors. Jurisdiction in the courts of a particular state may be determined by the location of real property in a state (in rem jurisdiction), or whether the parties are located within the state (in personam jurisdiction). Thus, a probate of Marsha Blackwood's estate would be in Idaho where she lived and died, but jurisdiction over her title to real estate in Utah will be under the jurisdiction of the Utah courts. Federal courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits between citizens of different states, cases based on federal statutes such as fair labor standards and antitrust violations, charges of federal crimes, appeals from bankruptcy proceedings, maritime cases or legal actions involving federal constitutional questions. Sometimes regulatory agencies have the initial jurisdiction before any legal action may be filed in court. More than one court may have concurrent jurisdiction, such as both state and federal courts, and the lawyer filing the lawsuit may have to make a tactical decision as to which jurisdiction is more favorable or useful to his/her cause, including time to get to trial, the potential pool of jurors or other considerations. Appellate jurisdiction is given by statute to appeals courts to hear appeals about the judgment of the lower court that tried a case, and to order reversal or other correction if error is found. State appeals are under the jurisdiction of the state appellate courts, while appeals from federal district courts are within the jurisdiction of the courts of appeal and eventually the Supreme Court. Jurisdiction is not to be confused with "venue," which means the best place to try a case. Thus, any state court may have jurisdiction over a matter, but the "venue" is in a particular county.

Lect Law Library

JURISDICTION - A power constitutionally conferred upon a judge or magistrate, to take cognizance of and decide causes according to law and to carry his sentence into execution. The tract of land or district within which a judge or magistrate has jurisdiction, is called his territory and his power in relation to his territory is called his territorial jurisdiction.

Every act of jurisdiction exercised by a judge without his territory, either by pronouncing sentence or carrying it into execution, is null. An inferior court has no jurisdiction beyond what is expressly delegated.

Jurisdiction is original when it is conferred on the court in the first instance, called original jurisdiction; or it is appellate, which is when an appeal is given from the judgment of another court. Jurisdiction is also civil where the subject-matter to be tried is not of a criminal nature; or criminal where the court is to punish crimes. Some courts and magistrates have both civil and criminal jurisdiction.


Sphere of authority to rule on questions of law; authority to govern or legislate.

The Free (Legal) Dictionary

The geographic area over which authority extends; legal authority; the authority to hear and determine causes of action.

Jurisdiction generally describes any authority over a certain area or certain persons. In the law, jurisdiction sometimes refers to a particular geographic area containing a defined legal authority. For example, the federal government is a jurisdiction unto itself. Its power spans the entire United States. Each state is also a jurisdiction unto itself, with the power to pass its own laws. Smaller geographic areas, such as counties and cities, are separate jurisdictions to the extent that they have powers that are independent of the federal and state governments.

Jurisdiction also may refer to the origin of a court's authority. A court may be designated either as a court of general jurisdiction or as a court of special jurisdiction. A court of general jurisdiction is a trial court that is empowered to hear all cases that are not specifically reserved for courts of special jurisdiction. A court of special jurisdiction is empowered to hear only certain kinds of cases.


Jurisdiction (from the Latin ius, iuris meaning "law" and dicere meaning "to speak") is the practical authority granted to a formally constituted legal body or to a political leader to deal with and make pronouncements on legal matters and, by implication, to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility.

Alternatively, jurisdiction is the authority given to a legal body or to a political leader to adjudicate and enforce legal matters. The term is also used to denote the geographical area or subject-matter to which such authority applies.

Jurisdiction draws its substance from public international law, conflict of laws, constitutional law and the powers of the executive and legislative branches of government to allocate resources to best serve the needs of its native society.