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Jurisdiction. It’s a term that you hear in the news, on television, and in the paper, but do you understand how it works? The United States Constitution specifies whether certain rights and responsibilities should be handled by the federal government or individual states. The federal government handles national matters such as trading between states, while states and local governments are in charge of matters such as speed limits.


Different states don’t have jurisdiction over each other. They each operate independently and laws in one state don’t apply to others. This is why lawyers have to get licensed in each state they want to practice in. States break down the responsibility even further to a local level. Towns, cities, and municipalities have jurisdiction over issues such as parking, curfews, and zoning laws.


Jurisdiction for courts is a little more complicated. State courts are permitted to hear federal matters, and federal courts can rule on state matters if the right conditions are met. States usually have a limit on how much or what kind of claim is filed before the issue is escalated to the federal level.


Federal courts only have two ways of obtaining jurisdiction. They are when a federal issue is present or if the diversity of citizenship exists. Diversity of citizenship occurs when the parties are in different states and it would be unfair to handle the case at a state level because one party would unfairly benefit.


Appellate courts can overturn a decision by a trial court if an error occurred with the judgment. These courts can choose which cases to hear and selectively choose cases that settle important and controversial legal issues. Courts can only hear cases which they have subject matter jurisdiction over.


Other institutions, known as administrative bodies at both the Federal and State Levels, can enforce laws or rules through judicial proceedings. These organizations have the same jurisdiction as the governing body that created them. The same applies to police agencies with local cops patrolling their towns or cities, sheriffs handling matters within the county, and state police patrolling state roads and highways.


Jurisdiction is a complex matter that isn’t always the easiest to understand but understanding the basics can help create a foundation of understanding.