A judge has authority and broad discretion to incarcerate people for .

Who, besides the judge who holds a person in contempt, has authority to overturn a finding of contempt or an order of incarceration for contempt?

Do higher courts hear appeals of contempt?

Can a governor or president issue a pardon that overrides a finding of contempt?

  • 1
    I know that findings of contempt are sometimes overturned by higher courts, but I want a source or citation before giving a full answer. I don't think pardon power extents to contempt charges, but I would want to check. Apr 9, 2021 at 3:12
  • LII has a long article on The Contempt Power that looks interesting and probably has some good answers buried in it.
    – feetwet
    Apr 10, 2021 at 23:47

2 Answers 2


In the United States, a contempt finding can be wiped out by:

  • The judge who issued it. United States v. Jerry, 487 F.2d 600, 605 (3d Cir. 1973) (“[S]o long as the district court has jurisdiction over the case, it possesses inherent power over interlocutory orders, and can reconsider them when it is consonant with justice to do so.”)

  • An appellate court with juridiction over the judge who issued it. This was what happened with several of the contempt orders in the case depicted in The Trial of the Chicago 7. In re Dellinger, 461 F.2d 389, 401 (7th Cir. 1972) (“Therefore, the contempt convictions of appellants are reversed and remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent herewith.”)

  • For convictions on charges of criminal contempt in federal courts, the president of the United States may issue a pardon that nullifies the conviction. This was what happened in the case of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of defying a court order to stop harassing Hispanic people. For convictions in state courts, a governor may be able to issue a pardon.

  • 3
    Just to continue the thought to its completion, civil contempt findings in either the state or federal courts cannot be pardoned or commuted.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 10, 2021 at 0:03

Superior courts in the hierarchy

At least in contempt procedures of a court or tribunal are spelled out in the legislation that establishes that court or tribunal. For example the NSW Local Court Act sets out the requirements for and maximum punishment for contempt in the Local Court and the NSW Industrial Relations Act sets out the same for the Industrial Relations Commission.

In all cases, contempt is an offence which may be criminal or civil but always requires the criminal standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt. Appellate jurisdiction can be carved out by the legislature but AFAIK it has not for any stripe of contempt. As such, the normal appeals process available for any other offence is open for contempt.

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