The Judicial Branch

Though the Supreme Court is an integral part of the modern federal government, during the ratification debates not everyone was convinced of the practicality of a large federal judiciary. Some Antifederalists argued that having a federal court system would conflict too much with the systems of state justice already in place. Others worried that a large court system would breed tyranny. Even the Federalists were unclear about certain elements of the judiciary, including how judges should be selected, and how long their appointments should be. Despite these uncertainties, Alexander Hamilton argued persuasively in his Federalist Papers the importance of the inclusion of the judiciary. While the framers were convinced of the necessity of a judiciary, its exact form was not established until after the Constitutional was ratified.

Judiciary Act of 1789

Enacted in the first session of Congress, the Judiciary Act of 1789 established the Judicial Branch as we know it today. Article III of the Constitution established a Supreme Court, but left it up to Congress to decide the specific structure of the judiciary. Congress established the jurisdictions of the district and circuit courts, as well as the Supreme Court. The act set the number of Supreme Court judges at six (one chief, five associates), though this has fluctuated throughout the years. While the act has been amended in some cases to reclassify jurisdictions, the structure of the courts remains largely the same, indicating that the system established by the first Congress was very successful.

More Resources

The Modern Judiciary Branch
Federal Judiciary Act
Passage of the Judiciary Act in the Senate on July 17, 1789
Passage of the Judiciary Act in the House of Representatives on September 17, 1789

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