District Court Decisions


Prior to 1998, a direct appeal to the United States Supreme Court from any interlocutory or final decision of any Court of the United States finding acts of Congress unconstitutional was permitted.  The mandatory appellate jurisdiction of the United States Supreme Court was abolished in 1988.  The present position is that appeals from district court judgments finding acts of Congress unconstitutional must be taken to the appropriate court of appeals.[i]  Under exceptional circumstances, direct appeal is provided for some particular types of decisions of the district courts.  Thus, a party who filed a suit for equitable relief under the antitrust laws may seek direct Supreme Court review of a final judgment by filing with the district judge.  A direct appeal is available only in cases of general public importance.  For this the party must file an application for order within 15 days of the filing of a notice of appeal stating that immediate consideration of the appeal is vital in the larger public interest of justice.

In addition, certain statutes allow a direct appeal of rulings in cases pertaining to those statutes.  For instance, the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, provides that a district court order issued in an action challenging the constitutionality of the Act would be reviewable by appeal directly to the United States Supreme Court.

The United States Supreme Court formerly had direct appellate jurisdiction of appeals from district court rulings invalidating federal statutes.  Under the current law, Supreme Court’s jurisdiction is limited to direct appeals from the decisions of three-judge district courts.[ii]

Thus, parties are free to appeal to the Supreme Court from an order granting or denying an interlocutory or permanent injunction in any civil action, suit or proceeding required by any Act of Congress to be heard and determined by a district court of three judges.[iii]

Courts have held that 28 USCS § 1253 must be read in connection with provisions of 28 USCS § 1294 that “appeals from reviewable decisions of the district and territorial courts shall be taken to the courts of appeals from a District Court of the United States to the Court of Appeals for the circuit embracing the district.”[iv]
Three-judge Federal District Court’s granting of injunction prohibiting enforcement of state statute will make it certain that jurisdiction to consider appeal taken by defendants from District Court’s judgment lies directly with Supreme Court under 28 USCS § 1253.[v]

Moreover, the right to appeal under28 USCS § 1253 is not an absolute right.  Rather, the statutory right is restricted to certain non-moot cases.  Hence every judgment of three-judge court cannot be reviewed by Supreme Court, since the statute does not revise constitutional requirement of Article III, Section 2 which limits federal judicial power to “cases” and “controversies.”[vi]

However, in certain specific situations, an appeal may lie directly to the Supreme Court.  For instance, Court of Appeals has no jurisdiction to consider an appeal from decision of a three-judge district court on constitutionality of state statute and an appeal will lie directly to Supreme Court.[vii]

Appeals should have been filed in Supreme Court under 28 USCS § 1253, rather than in Court of Appeals, “where (1) 3-judge District Court had held plaintiff’s discharge from employment unconstitutional and had granted declaratory and injunctive relief, ordered reinstatement, awarded damages for backpay prior to discharge, and awarded costs, but denied attorney fees, and (2) plaintiff, satisfied with injunctive and declaratory relief and with pre-discharge damages, sought to appeal from denial of attorney fees and from denial of motion to amend judgment to include post-discharge damages.” [viii]
The United States Supreme Court will vacate an  order of three-judge court and remand case to District Court so that timely appeal may be taken to Court of Appeals where direct appeal to Supreme Court from order of three-judge court was not appropriate and where, although appellants lodged protective appeal in Court of Appeals from decision of single judge, they did not do so with respect to three-judge order. [ix]

Also, if an appeal in the main proceeding must be taken directly to Supreme Court, then appeal from order denying intervention therein likewise must be taken to the Supreme Court as well, and not to Court of Appeals. [x] In short, 28 USCS § 1253 contemplates direct appeal to the Supreme Court only in cases involving three judge district courts in accordance with statutory requirements. [xi]

[i] 28 U.S.C.S. § 1291

[ii] 28 USCS § 1253

[iii] Id.

[iv] International Longshoremen’s & Warehousemen’s Union v. Ackerman, 82 F. Supp. 65 (D. Haw. 1948)

[v] Abele v. Markle, 351 F. Supp. 224 (D. Conn. 1972)

[vi] Pine Builders, Inc. v. United States, 413 F. Supp. 77 (E.D. Va. 1976)

[vii] Bogue v. Faircloth, 441 F.2d 623 (5th Cir. Fla. 1971)

[viii] Haining v. Roberts, 453 F.2d 1223 (5th Cir. 1971)

[ix] Mengelkoch v. Industrial Welfare Com., 393 U.S. 83 (U.S. 1968)

[x] Doe v. Turner, 488 F.2d 1134 (8th Cir. Iowa 1973)

[xi] Hicks v. Pleasure House, Inc., 404 U.S. 1 (U.S. 1971) superseded by statute as stated in Morrill v. Weaver, 224 F. Supp. 2d 882 (E.D. Pa. 2002)