This section is from the book "The Constitutional Law Of The United States", by Westel Woodbury Willoughby. Also available from Amazon: Constitutional Law.
This court, established in 1855,26 has general jurisdiction of all "claims founded upon the Constitution of the United States or any law of Congress, except for pensions, or upon any negotiation of an executive department, or upon any contract, express or implied, with the Government of the United States, or for damages, liquidated or unliquidated, in cases not sounding in tort, in respect of which claims the party would be entitled to redress against the United States, either in a court of law, equity, or admiralty, if the United States were suable. Exception is, however, made of "claims growing out of the late civil war," and "other claims which have hitherto been rejected, or reported on adversely by any court, department, or commission authorized to hear and determine the same." 27
The court also has jurisdiction to adjudicate upon all claims which may from time to time be referred to it by an executive department of the United States, involving disputed facts or questions of law where the amount involved is greater than $3,000, or where the decision will affect a class of cases or furnish a precedent for the executive departments in the adjustment of such classes of claims, or where an authority, right, privilege, or exemption is claimed or denied under the Constitution.
25a See Chapter LV (Admiralty And Maritime Jurisdiction. 637. Admiralty And Maritime Jurisdiction Defined).
26 10 Stat. at L. 612.
27 24 Stat. at L. 505; Chap. 359.
In these cases where the decision is in favor of the claimant, judgment may be entered payable out of the Treasury of the United States.
Upon questions of law an appeal lies in all cases at the instance of the United States to the Supreme Court, and at the instance of the claimants where the amount claimed exceeds $3,000. The findings of fact by the Court of Claims is final and conclusive.
By the so-called Bowman Act of March 3, 1883,28 the head of an executive department is authorized to refer to the court any claim or matter pending in his department which involves controverted questions of fact or of law, and the court is directed to report its findings of facts and conclusions of law to the department for its guidance. The act also provides that either House of Congress or any of its committees may refer any claim or matter to the court for the determination of the facts involved, and the report of the same to Congress for such action thereupon as it may see fit to take.
As to the foregoing the District Courts are given concurrent jurisdiction where the amount does not exceed $1,000; and the circuit courts concurrent jurisdiction where the amount exceeds $1,000, but is not greater than $10,000.
All causes are tried by the court without a jury. All claims not brought within six years of the date of their accruing are barred from prosecution.
By various acts Congress has from time to time conferred upon the court additional jurisdiction with reference to specific classes of cases, as for example, French Spoliation claims, Indian depredation claims, claims for bounties for war vessels captured or destroyed during the war with Spain, and claims arising out of payment of customs duties to the authorities in Porto Rico while that island was under military rule.
28 22 Stat. at L. 485.