Judicial Branch & Supreme Court Timeline
How It All Went Down
Members of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia draft Article III of what will become the US Constitution. It establishes the judicial branch of government but provides only a rough outline of its organization.
Federal Judiciary Act
The first Congress passes the Federal Judiciary Act, which establishes a federal court system. It also sets specific guidelines for the operation of the Supreme Court, which will consist of one chief justice and five associate justices and preside over regional circuit courts.
First Supreme Court Session
The US Supreme Court holds its first public session in the Royal Exchange on Broad Street in New York City.
Capital Moves to DC
The nation's capital moves from New York to Washington, D.C., but no provisions are made to house the Supreme Court in its own building. The Court must conduct its business within a borrowed space originally designed for use by a congressional committee.
Judiciary Act of 1801
Amidst fierce conflict between Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans, Congress reluctantly passes the Judiciary Act of 1801. The Act, which is repealed within the year, reorganizes the federal court system, shrinks the size of the Supreme Court from six justices to five, and establishes circuit judgeships to reduce the Court's workload.
Judiciary Reform of 1802
Following the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801, Congress enacts a new statute that reinstates the Supreme Court justices' circuit court duties and eliminates circuit judgeships.
Supreme Court Gets Seventh Justice
As a response to national expansion and an ever-growing caseload in district courts in the West, Congress adds an additional seat to the Supreme Court, increasing the number of justices to seven. The seventh justice will preside over the courts within a newly created Seventh Circuit.
Fletcher v. Peck
In the case Fletcher v. Peck, the Supreme Court rules that the Georgia legislature has violated the Constitution. For the first time, the Court declares a state law to be unconstitutional.
Two More Justices Added to Supreme Court
Again, as a response to growing caseloads in district courts throughout the burgeoning nation, Congress establishes two new circuits and approves the addition of two new justices on the Supreme Court to preside over them.
New West Coast Circuit Court
Five years after California enters the union, Congress gives the new state its own circuit, one without a presiding Supreme Court justice. Though many in Congress agree that the distance between Washington, D.C. and the Pacific Coast precludes the assignment of a justice to the new circuit, some worry that the act will set a dangerous precedent for a separate and independent system of justice in the West.
Tenth Justice on Supreme Court
Back to Nine Justices on Supreme Court
The Republican majority in Congress manages to reorganize the judicial circuit court system to eliminate what it sees as the disproportionate influence of the South; by redrawing the boundaries of the circuits, Congress reduces the number of circuits composed entirely of former slave states from five to two. In addition, Congress eliminates the tenth seat on the Supreme Court in an effort to prevent tie votes.
Circuit Judges Act
Congress passes the Circuit Judges Act, setting the number of Supreme Court seats at nine. It also authorizes the appointment of circuit judges for each of the nine court circuits, which will reduce the Court's circuit duties and allow the justices to focus on the Supreme Court's own cases.
Judiciary and Removal Act
With the passage of the Judiciary and Removal Act, Congress extends federal jurisdiction and permits US circuit courts to hear any and all cases involving a question of constitutionality.
In order to begin to deal with the Supreme Court's overwhelming caseload, New York Senator William Evarts leads Congress to pass the Evarts Act. The Act establishes a new tier of appeals courts within the federal court system and grants the Supreme Court a limited authority to determine which cases it will hear.
To create a more efficient federal judiciary, Congress votes to abolish the US circuit courts and transfer their jurisdiction to district courts.
The Supreme Court justices recommend the Judges' Bill to Congress for approval. Congress agrees to give the Court greater authority in determining which cases it will hear by eliminating direct appeals from district courts except in cases involving constitutional principles.
Federal Judicial Center
In response to Chief Justice Earl Warren's recommendation, Congress establishes a Federal Judicial Center to help Supreme Court justices better manage their growing caseload. The Center will conduct judicial research and organize educational programs for judges and court personnel.
US Court of Appeals
In an effort to further streamline the appeals process and to relieve growing pressure on the Supreme Court, Congress establishes a national court of appeals defined by its jurisdiction rather than by geography. This US Court of Appeals will screen appeal petitions and decide cases before they reach the Supreme Court.