On Exhibit: The Judiciary Act of 1789

An Act to Establish the Federal Courts of the United States, 09/24/1789. (National Archives Identifier 1501550)

An Act to Establish the Federal Courts of the United States, 09/24/1789.
(National Archives Identifier 1501550)

Continuing our celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the First Congress the National Archives is displaying the original Judiciary Act of 1789.

For three months beginning September 17, 2014, you can see the landmark piece of legislation in the Rubenstein Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Article III of the U.S. Constitution established the Supreme Court but gave Congress the authority to create lower Federal courts at its discretion. One of the first actions the First Congress took was to establish a Federal court system.

On April 7, 1789—just one day after the Senate reached a quorum for the first time—the Senate appointed a committee to prepare a bill organizing the judiciary of the United States.

After two months of work, the committee reported the first bill ever introduced into the United States Senate—S. 1, a bill to establish the Judicial Courts of the United States, what would become known as the Judiciary Act of 1789.

The bill’s principal author was Senator Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut. A key member at the Constitutional Convention, Ellsworth would eventually become Chief Justice of the United States in 1796.

President George Washington's Nomination of Judges, Attorneys, and Marshalls, September 24, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

President George Washington’s Nomination of Judges, Attorneys, and Marshalls, September 24, 1789. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Major provisions of the bill included setting the number of Supreme Court justices at six, creating 13 federal court districts, and creating the office of the Attorney General to represent the United States before the Supreme Court. It also created a United States Attorney and United States Marshal for each judicial district.

On September 24, 1789, President George Washington signed the Judiciary Act of 1789. That same day he nominated the first Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court as well as district judges, United States Attorneys, and United States Marshals.

The Federal judiciary system that Congress created back in 1789 is essentially the same structure as we still have today.

The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr  and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.

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