King's Bench jurisdiction

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King's Bench jurisdiction or King's Bench power is the extraordinary jurisdiction of an individual state's highest court over its inferior courts. In the United States, the states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma and Wisconsin[1] use the term to describe the extraordinary jurisdiction of their highest court, called the Court of Appeals in New York or the Supreme Court in the other states, over the courts below it. King's Bench jurisdiction includes the power to vacate the judgments of inferior courts when acting in extraordinary circumstances, for example, where the importance of an issue to public well-being or the expediency with which action must be taken in the interest of justice requires superseding normal judicial or appellate procedures. Federal courts in the United States possess the power to issue similar extraordinary writs under the All Writs Act. The term originates from an English common law term of a similar name.


The Province of Pennsylvania, also known as the Pennsylvania Colony, was an English proprietary colony from the time of its royal charter in 1681 until the American Revolution in 1776 when Pennsylvania adopted its first Constitution. In Pennsylvania, King's Bench power is a 12th-century English common law legal authority which the Legislature bestowed in 1722 on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, granting that court by charter constitutional authority over legal and supervisory aspects of the court system in the English colony.[2] The now codified authority provides that, "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Supreme Court may, on its own motion or upon petition of any party, in any matter pending before any court ... involving an issue of immediate public importance, assume plenary jurisdiction of such matter at any stage thereof and enter a final order or otherwise cause right and justice to be done."[3][4]

Amid troubles and public feuds involving Supreme Court justices in the early 1990s,[5] specifically including Justice Rolf Larsen, who was criminally convicted and impeached by the house then subsequently convicted and removed from office by the state senate,[6] Pennsylvania voters sought to limit the "king's" power. The public image of Larsen made him a poster child for the need for court reform. The upheaval surrounding Justice Larsen's time on the bench served as a catalyst for a much-needed change in the state judicial system.[6] Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts credits the public turmoil he caused with leading to the overwhelming passage of a constitutional amendment that strengthened the way judges are disciplined for misconduct.[6] In 1993, Pennsylvania voters amended their state Constitution. The change created a due process system for judges through a state Judicial Conduct Board, which independently investigates misconduct complaints, and a Court of Judicial Discipline, which independently determines a Pennsylvania judge's innocence or guilt.[2] This replaced the old system that gave the Supreme Court justices themselves the final say in judicial misconduct, including cases involving their own members.[6]

For an example of King's Bench jurisdiction, see the Pennsylvania "kids for cash" scandal.


  1. ^ "AOPC Chief Counsel Testifies on "King's Bench" Authority as an Important Safety Valve" (PDF). Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. August 3, 1995. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 16, 2011. Retrieved 2009-08-27.
  2. ^ a b "McCaffery suspension may pit King's Power against will of the people". The Morning Call. October 22, 2014. Retrieved 22 Feb 2015.
  3. ^ "Pa. governor's moratorium on executions triggers legal battle". The Youngstown Vindicator. March 9, 2015. Retrieved 18 Mar 2015.
  4. ^ Pennsylvania Statutes, Title 42, § 726. Extraordinary jurisdiction.
  5. ^ "Justice Charged In A Drug Scheme". The New York Times. October 29, 1993.
  6. ^ a b c d "Rolf Larsen remembered for impact on state policy, not his impeachment". August 13, 2014.

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