JUDICIARY ACT OF 1789
When did Congress establish the lower federal courts?
Article III of the U.S. Constitution simply says that there will be "one supreme court" and such "inferior courts" as Congress deemed necessary. Congress addressed this with the Judiciary Act of 1789, which created a three-tiered system of federal courts (a system that still exists today). In this law, Congress created a supreme court composed of six justices, federal circuit court of appeals, and federal district courts.
The circuit courts did not have separate judges during this time. Each circuit court consisted of panels of three judges—a local district court and two U.S. Supreme Court justices. The justices did not enjoy the experience of riding the circuits because the travel schedule was too burdensome.
LegalSpeak: What is Rule 10 of the Supreme Court?
Review on a writ of certiorari is not a matter of right, but of judicial discretion. A petition for a writ of certiorari will be granted only for compelling reasons. The following, although neither controlling nor fully measuring the Court's discretion, indicate the character of the reasons the Court considers:
(a) a United States court of appeals has entered a decision in conflict with the decision of another United States court of appeals on the same important matter; has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with a decision by a state court of last resort; or has so far departed from the accepted and usual course of judicial proceedings, or sanctioned such a departure by a lower court, as to call for an exercise of this Court's supervisory power;
(b) a state court of last resort has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with the decision of another state court of last resort or of a United States court of appeals;
(c) a state court or a United States court of appeals has decided an important question of federal law that has not been, but should be, settled by this Court, or has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with relevant decisions of this Court.
A petition for a writ of certiorari is rarely granted when the asserted error consists of erroneous factual findings or the misapplication of a properly stated rule of law.
Who was the principal author of the Judiciary Act of 1789?
Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut was the principal author of the Judiciary Act of 1789. A member of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, Ellsworth became a U.S. senator when the Senate first convened in 1789. He was elected chair of the committee designed to follow the dictates of Article III of the new Constitution to create a federal judicial system. William Paterson from New Jersey, another member of the 1787 Convention and an original U.S. senator, also assisted in the drafting of the Judiciary Act of 1789. Both Ellsworth and Paterson later became justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. They were classmates at Princeton College before they entered politics.
What type of federal court system did Congress create in the Judiciary Act of 1789?
Congress passed the Federal Judiciary Act of 1789, which filled in many of the blanks in Article III of the Constitution. For example, Article III simply stated that there would be "one supreme court" and "such inferior courts" as Congress deemed necessary.
The Judiciary Act created a three-tiered system of federal courts, which still exists into the twenty-first century. The Act created a U.S. Supreme Court (of six justices), federal circuit courts, and federal district courts. There were 13 district courts, consisting of the districts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Georgia. In each district, there would be a district court and a district judge that would hold four annual sessions.
The Judiciary Act also called for three circuit courts—the Eastern, Middle and Southern Circuits. The Eastern Circuit consists of the districts of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. The Middle Circuit consists of the districts of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The Southern Circuit consists of the districts of Georgia and South Carolina. Each circuit court would consist of panels of three judges—a local district court judge and two U.S. Supreme Court justices.