Exceptions Clause (Legal Definition And Why It’s Important)

What is the Exceptions Clause?

How do you legally define it?

What are the important elements you should know!

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Exceptions Clause 

The Exceptions Clause is a provision found in the U.S. Constitution allowing Congress to make exceptions to the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction.

The Exceptions Clause is found in Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution and represents an important limit to the powers granted to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The provision indicates that the Supreme Court “shall have original Jurisdiction” both in law and fact when the cases affect ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those where the state is a party.

It is also given appellate jurisdiction for all other cases. 

The last sentence of the provision limits the Supreme Court powers by indicating that it has appellate jurisdiction “with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make”.

To have original jurisdiction means that a case can be originally filed before the Supreme Court in the first instance (case goes directly to the Supreme Court).

To have appellate jurisdiction means that the Supreme Court will hear matters that have been already heard by lower courts in the first instance (case goes to the Supreme Court to appeal the decision of a lower court).

Exception Clause definition

The Exception Clause refers to a provision of the American Constitution allowing Congress to limit the appellate powers granted to the US Supreme Court.

In essence, Congress can “take away” appellate jurisdiction from the Supreme Court if it believes it is the right thing to do.

In this capacity, Congress is given broad “exception powers” to manage and control the Court’s appellate jurisdiction.

Congress Exceptions Power

Looking at the powers given to Congress, scholars and academics have taken two different views on the matter.

On the one hand, some argue that the broad Congress powers represent a threat to the Supreme Court’s role in the judiciary system.

On the other hand, some argue that Congress has historically exercised its exception powers to help the Supreme Court rather than limit its powers.

As an example, some scholars indicate that as the Supreme Court’s mandatory docket grew to a point where the Supreme Court no longer had the capacity and resources to deal with it, Congress used its powers to replace the court’s mandatory appellate jurisdiction with a discretionary review using writs of certiorari.

Use of Exceptions Power by Congress

In 1869, Congress used its powers to limit the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction in the case Ex parte McCardle.

Essentially, an individual was arrested for writing articles considered to be adverse to the Reconstruction representing a term used in the context of the Civil War.

The individual’s case was appealed to the Supreme Court after being heard on its merits in the first instance and Congress amended the statute applicable to the case to remove the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction.

As a result, the Supreme Court no longer had a legal basis to hear the appeal of the case and thus concluded that it could not render a judgment in the case at hand.

Exceptions clause language 

Here is how the Exceptions Clause is formulated in the U.S. Constitution Article III, Section 2, Clause 2:

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.


So what is the legal definition of Exceptions and Regulations Clause?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Exceptions Clause:

  • The Exceptions Clause refers to the US Constitution Art. III, § 2, Cl 2
  • More specifically, it deals with the power given to Congress to limit the US Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction 
  • The clause indicates that the Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction “with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make”
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