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Jurisdiction is the legal authority of a court, organization, or government to make judgments and enforce laws. It simply means that a presiding entity has the power to act and arbitrate if legal codes are broken.

This an essential consideration when you create your legal documents. The jurisdiction of courts stated on the form will decide who can judge your case if lawsuits occur.

Usually, when a case reaches court, jurisdiction is decided based on the following questions:

  • Does the court have the power to rule on the person in question?
  • Is there territorial jurisdiction?
  • If money claims occur, is the amount claimed too big or small for the court to act?
  • Does the court have the authority to rule on the subject matter?
  • Can the court provide the judgment being requested?

If the answer is yes to one or more of these inquiries then the legal authority being petitioned would be assumed to have jurisdiction. This would allow them to make a judgment on the people or parties involved.

The jurisdiction of legal documents is usually explicitly stated on the form. It will include a written declaration or statement using the statutory language necessary to empower the chosen state government to enforce the agreement you’ve created.

For example, if you use a loan agreement you will agree that a specified state’s courts have jurisdiction over your contract. If you default on the loan those same courts will have the final say if the lender decides to sue.

However, in some cases, you don’t have a choice about who’s jurisdiction applies. This is especially the case in Federal Law as we’ll see below.

State Vs. Federal Jurisdiction

Federal law overrides state jurisdiction under certain circumstances. There are several types of cases that federal courts may get involved with. These include:

  • When a question of constitutionality arises in the law
  • Cases involving the laws and treaties of the United States
  • Habeus corpus issues
  • Admiralty law
  • Legal disagreements between state governments
  • Cases involving public ministers and other national representatives
  • Bankruptcy cases

Jurisdiction of the United States Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court has the highest authority when legal matters need to be settled. However, it has very limited jurisdiction.

Cases have to pass through the state and federal courts before the Supreme Court may rule on them. It is not possible to take something to the Supreme Court without the case being heard by a lower branch of the legal system first.