Inherent Powers

Resource Guide

Inherent powers consist of all powers reasonably required to enable a court to perform efficiently its judicial functions, to protect its dignity, independence, and integrity, and to make its lawful actions effective. The many contexts in which courts have asserted inherent powers include the authorization of rulemaking by the judicial branch, the governance and discipline of the bar by state courts of last resort, and the sanctioning of attorneys by trial lawyers in the course of managing caseflow. While inherent powers can be constrained by constitutional provisions, state and federal judges likewise have enjoyed greater receptivity from the legal profession to assertions of court authority in caseflow management than have their counterparts in other common law nations.

Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.


Kirk A. Randazzo and Richard W. Waterman. The U.S. Supreme Court and the Model of Contingent Discretion. (2011). Justice System Journal 32, no.3.

The authors’ study examines how much discretion Congress provides in statutes it enacts into law. Their basic argument is that ideological decision making by the Supreme Court justices depends upon the level of discretion Congress incorporates into the law. The greater the discretion, the less constraint federal judges and justices will encounter, making them more likely to vote according to their individual ideologies. Conversely, more detailed statutes will reduce the judges’ discretion. Using data on 1953-1996 Supreme Court decisions, our analysis supports this model of contingent discretion.

Chad Westerland. When Courts and Congress Collide: The Struggle for Control of America's Judicial System. (2008). Justice System Journal 29, no.2.

This title is a significant contribution due to its exploration of the development and importance of judicial independence within a separation-of-powers framework.

Webb, G. Gregg and Keith E. Whittington Judicial Independence, the Power of the Purse, and Inherent Judicial Powers. (July 2004). This Judicature article describes at length the use of inherent powers to deal with a court funding crisis.
Pierce, Richard J., Jr. The Inherent Limits on Judicial Control of Agency Discretion: The D.C. Circuit and the Nondelegation Doctrine. (Winter 2000). Administrative Law Review 52, no. 1: 63 This abstract focuses on American Trucking Association v EPA.  The majority opinion was such that it ruled the interpretation of the Environmental Protection Agency to be unconstitutional because there was no standard about how much pollution was too much.  The importance of this case rests in the fact that it allows judges to overturn the directives of the President and could thus weaken the power of the electorate.
Weinstein, Noah. Inherent Power of the Court. (1978). Reno, NV: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, University of Nevada-Reno Weinstein, a retired judge of the Circuit Court of St. Louis County (Mo.), analyzes the historical development of the inherent powers doctrine through the progression of court cases. The historical perspective begins with Marbury v. Madison and ends with City of North Las Vegas v. Daines. (KF8775 Z9 W44)
Cratsley, John C. Inherent Powers of the Courts. (1980). Reno, NV: The National Judicial College, American Bar Association at University of Nevada This resource is divided into three sections focusing on judicial activism in the state courts, a framework concerning implementation of the inherent powers doctrine, and an extensive outline of the inherent powers doctrine. The outline is a majority of the resource. (KF8775 Z9 C3 1980)
Stumpf, Felix F. Inherent Powers of the Courts: Sword and Shield of the Judiciary. (1994). Reno, NV: National Judicial College This one hundred forty-page book details the meaning of the term "inherent powers."  The purposes of the book are to "explain the theoretical basis for the doctrine and to highlight and illustrate selectively the various areas in which courts have employed inherent powers."  The book also noted the Missouri Judicial Finance Commission and its success as an intermediary between courts and state financial officers.  ( KF8732 .S79 1994 )
Missouri Judicial Finance Commission. This commission acts as an intermediary between circuit courts and the counties of Missouri.  According to the website, the Judicial Finance Commission's main responsibilities are "to review petitions from the counties, schedule informal conferences in the geographical area in which the dispute arose in an effort to expeditiously settle disputes, hold hearings so that all parties have the opportunity to present their positions for the record, and issue opinions on the reasonableness of the disputed budget request."
Baar, Carl. Separate but Subservient: Court Budgeting in the American States. (1975). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books This two hundred and ten-page book addresses the battle between public funding and state courts.  The book is focused on "the processes by which public funds are obtained and allocated by and for the courts."  The book itself is divided into seven chapters--Internal Organization of the Budget Process, External Relations in the Budget Process: The Executive Branch, External Relations in the Budget Process: The Legislative Branch, External Relations in the Budget Process: Expenditure Control, State and Local Funding: Trends and Comparisons, The Separation of Powers and Judicial Budget Processes, and Conclusions and Recommendations.  (KF8732.5 .Z95 B3)
The Judicial Power of the United States. FindLaw Constitutional Law Center: U.S. Constitution: Article III: Annotations [Several similar pages exist that will turn up with a search for “Inherent Powers” under FindLaw.]  This web site provides an extensive historical context of the judiciary.  It documents its colonial beginnings, discusses the reforms of the 19th and 20th centuries, and analyzes the varying aspects of the judicial system.