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The New U.S. Senate Considers Bill to Organize the Federal Judiciary: Full Text of the Senate Bill to Establish the Supreme Court, Federal Judicial Districts and Circuit Courts, as Well as the Position of Attorney General
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the supreme court of the United States shall consist of a chief justice and five associate justices...and shall hold annually at the seat of the federal government two sessions....

The U.S. Constitution provided that the “judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and such inferior Courts,” leaving to Congress to establish the details. The Judiciary Act erected a three-tiered federal court system—the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeals, and the District Courts—essentially the system in place today. The foremost issue was the relative power and authority to be respectively accorded the federal and state courts. The Judiciary Act’s most controversial provision empowered the Supreme Court to hear, at its discretion, appeals of verdicts reached in the state courts whenever those decisions were deemed to raise questions of constitutionality of state or federal laws. 

JUDICIARY ACT, U.S. SENATE DRAFT. The Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser. Newspaper, June 29, 1789 (No. 3248). Philadelphia: John Dunlap and David C. Claypoole. 4 pp., 11⅜ x 18¼ in.

Inventory #24830       Price: $1,650

the supreme court of the United States shall consist of a chief justice and five associate justices...and shall hold annually at the seat of the federal government two sessions....” (p2/c1) [expanded in 1802 to 7 and in 1837 to 9 justices]

the United States shall be, and they are hereby divided into eleven districts.... the before-mentioned district shall be divided into three circuits, and be called the eastern, the middle, and the southern circuit...and that there shall be held annually in each district two courts, which shall be called circuit courts, and shall consist of any two justices of the supreme court, and the district judge of such districts....” (p2/c1)

the supreme court shall have exclusive jurisdiction of all controversies of a civil nature, where any of the United States or a foreign state is a party....” (p2/c3)

grand and petit jurors who shall be summoned to serve in the courts of the United States, shall have the same qualifications as are requisite for jurors by the laws of the state of which they are citizens.... the mode of proof by oral testimony and examination of witnesses in open court, shall be the same in all the courts of the United States, as well in the trial of causes in equity and of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction as of actions at common law.” (p3/c1)

in all the courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally or by the assistance of such counsel or attornies at law as by the rules of the said courts respectively shall be permitted to manage and conduct causes therein.” (p3/c2)

And the supreme court shall also appoint a meet person, learned in the law, to act as attorney general for the United States, and shall swear him to a faithful execution of his office; whose whole duty it shall be to prosecute and conduct all suits in such court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments, touching any matters that may concern their departments; and shall receive such compensation for his services as shall by law be provided.” (p3/c2) [amended to be appointed by the President]


Historical Background

On April 7, 1789, the day after the first Federal Congress, meeting in New York, achieved a quorum, the Senate appointed a committee composed of one senator from each of the ten states to draft legislation to shape the judiciary. Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut received the most votes, becoming chairman, and the primary author of the bill. On June 12, 1789, Senator Richard Henry Lee of Virginia reported from the committee the Judiciary Bill, printed here. The Senate passed the bill on July 17. After the House and Senate made changes and agreed to final text, George Washington signed it into law on September 24.

Just a few days before the House approved an amended bill in September, Madison declared to Virginia Chief Justice Edmund Pendleton, “I view it as you do, as defective both in its general structure, and many of its particular regulations. The attachment of the Eastern members, the difficulty of substituting another plan, with the consent of those who agree in disliking the bill, the defect of time &c, will however prevent any radical alterations. The most I hope is that some offensive violations of Southern jurisprudence may be corrected, and that the system may speedily undergo a reconsideration under the auspices of the Judges who alone will be able perhaps to set it to rights.”[1] Anti-Federalists feared that judicial power would become an instrument of tyranny.

The Act organized the Supreme Court with a chief justice and five associate justices and gave it original jurisdiction over all civil actions between states or between a state and the United States. It also gave the Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction over decisions of the federal circuit courts and state courts when the issue involved the U.S. Constitution, a federal statute, or a treaty of the United States. It created thirteen judicial districts within the eleven states that had ratified the Constitution; each state comprised one district except Virginia and Massachusetts, which each had two (separate districts for Maine and Kentucky). Each judicial district had both a circuit court and a district court, and the bill established their jurisdiction, composition, and powers. It also created positions of U.S. Attorney and U.S. Marshal for each judicial district and the office of Attorney General of the United States to represent the nation before the Supreme Court.


Additional Content

This issue also includes a brief report of a carriage accident in New York that injured Senator Pierce Butler and Congressman Daniel Huger, both of South Carolina (p3/c3); a report from Frederick, Maryland, of an attack by Native Americans in Kentucky that killed five which “induces us to credit the many various reports that have been lately so much circulated respecting the horrid murders and depredations committed by the Indians, upon the frontiers, and makes humanity shudder at the idea of the bloody consequences which must ensue from a war with those barbarians” (p3/c3); and many notices and advertisements.


The Pennsylvania Packet, or the General Advertiser (1771-1800) was founded by John Dunlap (1747-1812) in late 1771 as a weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, though it relocated to Lancaster during the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777-1778. In 1776, Dunlap became the official printer for the Continental Congress, and he printed the first copies of the Declaration of Independence. On May 30, 1783, Benjamin Towne turned the Pennsylvania Evening Post into the first daily newspaper in the United States. However, with Towne branded a traitor and forced to hawk his own papers on the street, the newspaper collapsed the following year. John Dunlap and David Claypoole (1757-1849) then made their Pennsylvania Packet the first successful daily newspaper beginning on September 21, 1784. It was the first newspaper to print the U.S. Constitution in 1787 and the first to publish George Washington’s Farewell Address in 1796. It underwent numerous name changes in the 1790s until sold in 1800 and renamed Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser.

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