Article III, Section 1:
The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.
Among the incidental powers of courts is that of making all necessary rules governing their process and practice and for the orderly conduct of their business.1 However, this power too is derived from the statutes and cannot go beyond them. The landmark case is Wayman v. Southard,2 which sustained the validity of the Process Acts of 1789 and 1792 as a valid exercise of authority under the necessary and proper clause. Although Chief Justice Marshall regarded the rule-making power as essentially legislative in nature, he ruled that Congress could delegate to the courts the power to vary minor regulations in the outlines marked out by the statute. Fifty-seven years later, in Fink v. O’Neil,3 in which the United States sought to enforce by summary process the payment of a debt, the Supreme Court ruled that under the process acts the law of Wisconsin was the law of the United States, and hence the government was required to bring a suit, obtain a judgment, and cause execution to issue. Justice Matthews for a unanimous Court declared that the courts have
no inherent authority to take any one of these steps, except as it may have been conferred by the legislative department; for they can exercise no jurisdiction, except as the law confers and limits it.4 Conceding, in 1934, the limited competence of legislative bodies to establish a comprehensive system of court procedure, and acknowledging the inherent power of courts to regulate the conduct of their business, Congress authorized the Supreme Court to prescribe rules for the lower federal courts not inconsistent with the Constitution and statutes.5 Their operation being restricted, in conformity with the proviso attached to the congressional authorization, to matters of pleading and practice, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure thus judicially promulgated neither affect the substantive rights of litigants6 nor alter the jurisdiction7 of federal courts and the venue of actions therein8 and, thus circumscribed, have been upheld as valid.
Limitations to the Rule Making Power
The principal function of court rules is that of regulating the practice of courts as regards forms, the operation and effect of process, and the mode and time of proceedings. However, rules are sometimes employed to state in convenient form principles of substantive law previously established by statutes or decisions. But no such rule
can enlarge or restrict jurisdiction. Nor can a rule abrogate or modify the substantive law. This rule is applicable equally to courts of law, equity, and admiralty, to rules prescribed by the Supreme Court for the guidance of lower courts, and to rules
which lower courts make for their own guidance under authority conferred.9 As incident to the judicial power, courts of the United States possess inherent authority to supervise the conduct of their officers, parties, witnesses, counsel, and jurors by self-preserving rules for the protection of the rights of litigants and the orderly administration of justice.10
The courts of the United States possess inherent equitable powers over their process to prevent abuse, oppression, and injustice, and to protect their jurisdiction and officers in the protection of property in the custody of law.11 Such powers are said to be essential to and inherent in the organization of courts of justice.12While the Court has not
precisely delineated the outer boundaries of a federal court’s inherent powers to manage its own internal affairs, the Court has recognized two limits on the exercise of such authority.13 First, a court, in exercising its inherent powers over its own processes, must act reasonably in response to a specific problem or issue
confronting the court’s fair administration of justice.14 Second, any exercise of an inherent power cannot conflict with any express grant of or limitation on the district court’s power as contained in a statute or rule, such as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.15In applying these two standards, the Court has recognized that a district court, as an exercise of its inherent powers, can in limited circumstances rescind an order to discharge a jury and recall that jury in a civil case.16The Supreme Court has also acknowledged that federal courts possess the inherent power to control other aspects of regulating internal court proceedings, including having the inherent power to (1) hear a motion in limine;17 (2) dismiss a case for the convenience of the parties or witnesses because of the availability of an alternative forum;18 and (3) stay proceedings pending the resolution of parallel actions in other courts.19 The courts of the United States also possess inherent power to amend their records, correct the errors of the clerk or other court officers, and to rectify defects or omissions in their records even after the lapse of a term, subject, however, to the qualification that the power to amend records conveys no power to create a record or re-create one of which no evidence exists.20Nonetheless, while the exercise of an inherent power can, at times, allow for departures from even long-established, judicially crafted common law rules,21 courts are not
generally free to discover new inherent powers that are contrary to civil practice as recognized in the common laws.22