The Supervisory Power of the Supreme Court

Posted: 13 Jun 2006


Relying on something it calls "supervisory power" or "supervisory authority," the Supreme Court regularly prescribes rules of procedure and evidence for inferior courts. Both scholars and the Court have treated the Court's exercises of this authority as unexceptional exercises of the inherent authority that Article III grants every federal court to regulate procedure in the course of adjudication. Article III's grant of inherent authority, however, is conventionally understood as permitting a federal court to regulate its own proceedings. When the Supreme Court exercises supervisory power, it regulates the proceedings of other federal courts. More than a reference to every court's inherent authority, therefore, is required to justify the Court's action. If the Supreme Court possesses a unique ability to regulate federal court procedure, it must be because of some unique attribute of the Supreme Court. This Article explores a justification that may well animate the Court's assertions of supervisory power: the notion that the Court possesses supervisory power by virtue of its constitutional supremacy. Analyzing this justification requires pursuit of two questions that are wholly unexplored in the literature and case law. Does Article III's distinction between supreme and inferior courts operate only as a limit on the way that Congress can structure the judicial department, or does it also operate as a source of inherent authority for the Supreme Court? And assuming that the Court's supremacy grants it inherent authority over inferior courts, is supervisory power over procedure part of the authority granted?

Keywords: supreme court, inferior court, supervisory power, rulemaking, supreme, inferior

Suggested Citation

Barrett, Amy Coney, The Supervisory Power of the Supreme Court. Columbia Law Review, Vol. 106, p. 324, 2006, Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 06-09, Available at SSRN:

Amy Coney Barrett (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States

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