Federal question jurisdiction is a term used in the United States law of civil procedure to refer to the situation in which a United States federal court has subject matter jurisdiction to hear a civil case because the plaintiff has alleged a violation of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.
Article III of the United States Constitution permits federal courts to hear such cases, so long as the United States Congress passes a statute to that effect. However, when Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1789, which authorized the newly created federal courts to hear such cases, it initially chose not to allow the lower federal courts to possess federal question jurisdiction for fear that it would make the courts too powerful. The Federalists briefly created such jurisdiction in the Judiciary Act of 1801, but it was repealed the following year, and not restored until 1885.
Unlike diversity jurisdiction, which is based on the parties coming from different states, federal question jurisdiction has no amount in controversy requirement. Therefore, a federal court can hear a federal question case even if no money is sought by the plaintiff.
The statute enacting federal question jurisdiction requires that the federal question must appear on the face of the plaintiff's complaint. There has been considerable dispute over what constitutes a "federal question" in these circumstances, but it is now settled law that the plaintiff can not seek the jurisdiction of a federal court merely because they anticipate that the defendant is going to raise a defense based on the Constitution, or on a federal statute.
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