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About "Article III" Courts

THERE IS A PERSISTENT NOTION IN SOME CIRCLES that the United States District Court (USDC) for the [] District of [] is not an actual "Article III" court-- that is, that a USDC is not a Constitutionally-authorized judicial-branch court, as distinct from one called a "district court of the United States", which is. This notion is grounded in large part on a misunderstanding or mischaracterization of two Supreme Court rulings from early in the Twentieth Century, Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298 (1921) and Mookini v. United States, 303 U.S. 201 (1938).

First, let's dispel the mistake. 28 U.S.C. § 451 defines "district courts of the United States" as those established under chapter 5 of the title:

The terms “district court” and “district court of the United States” mean the courts constituted by chapter 5 of this title.

Chapter 5 lists each of the several states, and at each listing specifies all the divisions of United States District Courts therein as being district courts of the United States.

Though the listings don't call them by the specific label "United States District Courts"-- 'cause that's obvious-- those needing a bit more can see, further on in chapter 5, and referencing the list described above which precedes it, 28 U.S.C. § 132-- Creation and composition of district courts. That section provides:

(a) There shall be in each judicial district a district court which shall be a court of record known as the United States District Court for the district.

So, let's forever be done with nonsense about United States District Courts being inherently different from district courts of the United States. They are not.

SO WHY THE MISUNDERSTANDING of this issue in some circles? Again, it appears to hinge on a misreading of the Mookini and Balzac cases mentioned at the beginning.

The mistakes appear to arise from looking only at snippets from these cases, in which courts established in and for Puerto Pico and Hawaii (when still a territory) are discussed and labeled as [one kind of court or another],  leading to the erroneous conclusion that these rulings distinguish between "district courts of the United States" and "United States District Courts", with the former being supposed to be "Article III" (judicial branch) courts and the latter supposed to be only Article IV ("territorial") courts. Actually read in context, these snippets, and the cases form which they are drawn, say nothing of the sort.

Further, Balzac and Mookini were not cases dealing directly with the issue of what each kind of court is labeled. There ARE some cases that DO deal directly with that question, which we'll look at to show that the distinction meant to be drawn from the snippets of Balzac and Mookini is incorrect.

Here is the portion excerpted and misrepresented from Mookini without the benefit of context:

The term 'District Courts of the United States,' as used in the rules, without an addition expressing a wider connotation, has its historic significance. It describes the constitutional courts created under article 3 of the Constitution. Courts of the Territories are legislative courts, properly speaking, and are not District Courts of the United States. We have often held that vesting a territorial court with jurisdiction similar to that vested in the District Courts of the United States does not make it a 'District Court of the United States.' Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 , 154; The City of Panama, 101 U.S. 453 , 460; In re Mills, 135 U.S. 263, 268 , 10 S.Ct. 762; McAllister v. United States, 141 U.S. 174, 182 , 183 S., 11 S.Ct. 949; Stephens v. Cherokee Nation, 174 U.S. 445, 476 , 477 S., 19 S.Ct. 722; Summers v. United States, 231 U.S. 92, 101 , 102 S., 34 S.Ct. 38; United States v. Burroughs, 289 U.S. 159, 163 , 53 S.Ct. 574. Not only did the promulgating order use the term District Courts of the United States in its historic and proper sense, but the omission of provision for the application of the rules to the territorial courts and other courts mentioned in the authorizing act clearly shows the limitation that was intended.

Here is what is omitted:

In order to aid the Court in exercising its authority under the statute, the Attorney General of the United States at the request of the Court submitted on May 26, 1933, a draft of proposed rules. These were expressly limited to proceedings in cases brought in the District Courts of the United States and in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. The reason for this limitation was thus stated by the Attorney General: 'The Rules are limited in their application to proceedings in cases instituted in the District Courts of the United States and in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. There is not sufficient data at hand upon which to predicate proposals at this time relative to practice and procedure in cases instituted in the District Courts of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Canal Zone, and Virgin Islands, or in the Supreme Courts of Hawaii and Puerto Rico, or in the United States Court for China. It is thought that it would be the part of wisdom to establish the rules for practice and procedure for Continental United States before attempting to provide for the Territories, Insular Possessions and Consular Courts, as these situations will undoubtedly require special treatment because of local conditions and the distance separating the trial court from the Appellate Court.'

 As can be seen, the court in Mookini was NOT saying that "district court of the United States refers only to "Article III" courts-- the phrase is also used to describe territorial (Article IV) courts.


The United States district court is not a true United States court established under Article III of the Constitution to administer the judicial power of the United States therein conveyed. It is created by virtue of the sovereign congressional faculty, granted under Article IV, § 3, of that instrument, of making all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory belonging to the United States. The resemblance of its jurisdiction to that of true United States courts, in offering an opportunity to nonresidents of resorting to a tribunal not subject to local influence, does not change its character as a mere territorial court.

But of course the question arises: WHICH "United States district court" is being spoken of here, that is not "a true United States court established under Article III"? The excerpt is presented to suggest that the reference to "The United States district court" is a reference to any court that might be presented under that name, but looking a little more broadly into the ruling we find that:

These are two prosecutions for criminal libel, brought against the same defendant, Jesus M. Balzac, on informations filed in the District Court for Arecibo, Porto Rico, by the district attorney for that district. 

Thus, the "United States district court" to which the misrepresented snippet refers is "the District Court for Arecibo". The simple fact is, "district court of the United States" and "United States district court" are interchangeable terms, with Article III and Article IV courts both being known by either appellation. The distinction between an Article III variety and an Article IV variety can only be drawn by the specification of the location in which the court has jurisdiction.

NOW LET'S LOOK AT SOME RULINGS focusing on the distinctions. Here, for instance, is the US Supreme Court in Nguyen v. United States, No. 01-10873 (2003):

Petitioners were tried, convicted, and sentenced on federal narcotics charges in the District Court of Guam, a territorial court with subject matter jurisdiction over both federal-law and local-law causes. The Ninth Circuit panel convened to hear their appeals included two judges from that court, both of whom are life-tenured Article III judges, and the Chief Judge of the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, an Article IV territorial-court judge appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for a 10-year term.


In light of the relevant statutory provisions and historical usage, it is evident that Congress did not contemplate the judges of the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands to be "district judges" within the meaning of 28 U. S. C. § 292(a), which authorizes the assignment of "one or more district judges within [a] circuit" to sit on the court of appeals "whenever the business of that court so requires." As used throughout Title 28, "district court" means a "'court of the United States'" "constituted by chapter 5 of this title." §451. Among other things, Chapter 5 creates a "United States District Court" for each judicial district, § 132(a), exhaustively enumerates the districts so constituted, § 133(a), and describes "district judges" as holding office "during good behavior," § 134(a). Significantly, the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands is not one of the enumerated courts, nor is it even mentioned in Chapter 5.

Then there is Mobley v. CIR, No. 07-2019 (Sixth Circuit, 2008), a case in which the issue was whether Tax Court has the authority to transfer a case to a federal district court-- something that can only be done between courts included in the definition of "courts" in 28 USC § 610:

As used in this chapter the word “courts” includes the courts of appeals and district courts of the United States, the United States District Court for the District of the Canal Zone, the District Court of Guam, the District Court of the Virgin Islands, the United States Court of Federal Claims, and the Court of International Trade.

 As the Mobley court observes:

The Tax Court also rejected the Mobleys' request to “transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky"...

[T]he court to which the Mobleys want the case transferred is a court as defined in § 610-namely, a “district court[ ] of the United States.”

So the Mobley court identifies the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky as a district court of the United States.

The court goes on to identify that court as an Article III court. Ruminating over whether the Tax Court's denial of the request, which was based on its conclusion that as an Article I court it was not among those in 28 USC § 610, was sound, the Mobley court identifies the Article of authority for each listed variety:

One might think, for example, that all of the “include[d]” courts listed in § 610 are Article III courts, which would exclude the Tax Court-an Article I court, see 26 U.S.C. § 7441. But that is not the case. The list also mentions an Article I court (the Court of Federal Claims, see 28 U.S.C. § 171(a)) and three Article IV courts (the district courts of the Canal Zone, of Guam and of the Virgin Islands...

So, as the Mobley court says, § 610 covers an Article I court (the Court of Federal Claims) and three Article IV courts (the district courts of the Canal Zone, Guam and the Virgin Islands) with all the others listed-- the courts of appeals and district courts of the United States (one of which is the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky) being Article III courts.


P. S. BY COINCIDENCE, the same day I posted the article above I was copied by several people on a petition to the Supreme Court by someone named John Trowbridge which is being circulated with much hyperbole about its significance. Trowbridge's petition concerns a challenge to federal court jurisdiction over tax matters, and happens to include arguments involving the distinction between Article III and Article IV courts.

I will take this opportunity to post a few comments concerning Mr. Trowbridge's seemingly widely-distributed mistaken ideas. This is in order to forestall time being wasted on it by recipients, just as I posted the article above debunking a different set of mistakes concerning the different classes of courts for the same reason.

Mr. Trowbridge, unfortunately, is not CtC-educated. He therefore does not understand the basis for assertions of federal tax liability, and appears to imagine that basis to involve citizenship or residency, as indicated by this passage from early in his petition:

In Petitioner’s February 4, 2014, answer to Plaintiff’s January 7, 2014, complaint, Petitioner tacitly admits to all facts alleged in the complaint via solemn covenant to discharge in full the obligation alleged therein upon Plaintiff’s production of evidence that Petitioner is a citizen or resident of the Title 26 U.S.C. 7701(a)(9) geographical United States and therefore of the subject, and Petitioner’s property of the object, of Title 26 U.S.C. To this offer to settle Plaintiff stands mute, rather opting for pretrial motions and filings that continue for four months.

Overall, therefore, Trowbridge's petition is neither ground-breaking, as those distributing it breathlessly assert, nor useful.

Indeed, Trowbridge's petition is, rather, counter-productive. Like any and all of the ill-informed notions discussed here, it simply fuels the reflexive and default perception of average Americans and members of the legal professions and judiciary that any challenge to the general misunderstanding of the income tax is "tax protestor" nonsense which can be disregarded out of hand without so much as a read-through, much less serious consideration.

I hope everyone seeing this thing will respond to the sender and any known recipients with a sharp rebuke for the damage being done; and I hope anyone who knows Mr. Trowbridge will do him the favor of promptly introducing him to CtC. He writes very well, and appears to have an excellent grasp of what legal issues he actually does understand. My guess is he could be an asset to this community if he comes to accurately understand the tax.


P. P. S. WHILE GOING THROUGH THE RULINGS in the Trowbridge case discussed above, I came across a Supreme Court ruling from a couple of decades back that I'd never read before. Happily, it proves to contain very useful information that ought to help debunk another batch of infectious misunderstandings long-embedded in certain segments of the "tax honesty" community-- the "strawman", "everyone is presumed to be a corporation by the state", "income only means corporate profit" and "ALL CAPS" myths (all of which are intertwined with each other in one complex way or another).

I found this ruling cited in the opinion of the district court judge making an early partial judgment against Trowbridge in what he calls "The Lufkin Case". (The final judgment in the case was issued in March of 2016.)

While explaining why summary judgment was found in the government's favor in regard to two corporations apparently owned by the other Trowbridge, the judge points out that under the federal rules, any kind of artificial person MUST be represented by an attorney in order to have standing as either plaintiff or defendant. It is because this was not done that summary judgment was issued for the government against these two defendants, who effectively never showed up and offered no defense.

The case to which the judge cites is Rowland v. California Men's Colony, 506 U.S. 194 (1993), which makes the following observation:

"It has been the law for the better part of two centuries, for example, that a corporation may appear in the federal courts only through licensed counsel. Osborn v. Bank of the United States, 9 Wheat. 738, 829 (1824); see Turner v. American Bar Assn., 407 F. Supp. 451, 476 (ND Tex., 1975) (citing the "long line of cases" from 1824 to the present holding that a corporation may only be represented by licensed counsel), affirmance order sub nom. Taylor v. Montgomery, 539 F. 2d 715 (CA7 1976), and aff'd sub nom. Pilla v. American Bar Assn., 542 F. 2d 56 (CA8 1976)."

Rowland v. Cal. Men’s Colony, 506 U.S. 194, 202 (1993) (This is also a great case for making clear that "individual" means "natural person", by the way.)

 A pretty straightforward debunk of the nonsensical assertion that everyone in a federal court is presumed to be a corporation (i.e., those captive to the "ALL-CAPS" nonsense-- long-since thoroughly-debunked here; the "tax only falls on corporate profits" nonsense-- long-since debunked here; and the "strawman" nonsense-- long-since debunked here). Those who have fallen prey to these various flavors of nonsense ought to take careful note.

Plainly, if any of this stuff which they have clung-to and striven to spread like a virus were true, every legal contest in which they acted pro se (which is pretty much all of them) or any in which they observed anyone acting pro se, would have ended with the same simple ruling issued against Trowbridge in this case-- that is, that the defendant lost by default for having never shown up, legally speaking.

Or, to put it another way, not one of these pro se litigants would have been allowed to proceed in prosecuting or defending their cases, if they were all being presumed to be corporations in order to be taxed, or to be dealt with by the government in any fashion, as the various nonsense theories argue. Every one of them coming into court "pro se" would be told they must have a licensed attorney represent them. Where they are defendants, the court would invariably appoint an attorney, and refuse to allow self-representation (making the "Faretta" ruling and doctrine an absurdity, of course, but at this point, who's counting...).

Of course, none of these things have ever happened (except where, as in this "Lufkin" case, actual corporations WERE involved, and were accordingly deemed to have offered no defense due to no attorney acting on their behalf, per this rule). So, anyone harboring (and promoting) these foolishnesses really needs to just deep-six their erroneous notions and learn the real truth about the law (and especially about the income tax).

The happy fact is, if every person who is pulled off into the woods by "strawman" or "ALL CAPS" gibberish, or any of the rest of the troll-spawned distractions pushed out into the "tax honesty" community (for exactly the purpose of sending folks off on wild goose chases so they become harmless to the real problem) were to stay on the real field of battle and get busy with the real fight, we would win in a month.

Please help make that happen. Remember, friends don't let friends chase after will o' the wisps.