An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

After Reconstruction concluded, the state of Louisiana failed to pay interest on certain bonds. Hans, a citizen of Louisiana, sued Louisiana in federal court. He claimed that the state had violated the Contracts Clause. Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution provides that “No State shall . . . make any . . . Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts.” Hans argued that Louisiana’s violation of this Clause gave rise to federal question jurisdiction under Article III, Section 2. It provides, “The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made . . . under their Authority.”

Federal courts have federal question jurisdiction when a plaintiff alleges that the government violated the Constitution, such as the Contracts Clause, or a federal statute or treaty. In such cases, the federal courts have the “judicial Power” to resolve the dispute. Article III, Section 2 also establishes diversity jurisdiction. Federal courts can hear a case “between Citizens of different States,” or a case brought by a state against a citizen of another state. The federal courts can exercise diversity jurisdiction regardless of the subject matter of the legal claims being made.

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