Subject matter jurisdiction comprises an important part of legal theory that pertains to the degree and scope of authority which can be wielded by judicial decision-making bodies when coming to decisions on legal matters. Subject matter jurisdiction is typically considered one of the basic types of jurisdiction, and as such, is typically distinguished from personal jurisdiction and territorial jurisdiction.
In essence, subject matter jurisdiction pertains to the ability of the court in question to hear a certain kind of case. In this way, the violation of subject matter jurisdiction is considered to be more serious than those of personal or territorial jurisdiction, which, unlike it, can be waived if such is deemed necessary.
When a court issues a decision in regard to a matter over which it does not possess subject matter jurisdiction, this decision will, when these circumstances are deemed later and elsewhere to have been in effect, be considered utterly without legal force and authority.
The concept of subject matter jurisdiction has helped to shape the conception of legal systems of various countries, the United States among them. In this way, U.S. courts are sometimes created for the purpose of hearing specific kinds of cases, as in the instances of family courts, probate courts, and those created for hearing civil and criminal matters.
The superior courts in the legal systems of individual states typically have wide latitude to wield subject matter jurisdiction over a broadly defined array of cases, in contrast to the U.S. Federal courts, which tend to hold quite limited powers toward exercising subject matter jurisdiction.