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Supreme Court History

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In 1789, the final draft of the constitution of the United States came into effect. In article three it calls for "[t]he judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." In the article it neither says the duties, powers, or any organization of the supreme court. If left this up to congress and to the justices of the court itself for these details.

The very first bill introduced in the United States Senate was the Judiciary Act of 1789, led by Connecticut's Oliver Ellsworth. It divided the country in 13 judicial districts. They were further organized into the Eastern, Middle, and Southern circuits. The 1789 Act called for the Supreme Court to consist of a Chief Justice and only five Associate Justices, and for the Court to meet in the Nation's Capital.

President Washington nominated John jay as the first Supreme Court chief justice.

The Supreme Court was first called to assemble on Feb. 1, 1790, in the Merchants exchange Building in New York City, then the Nation's Capital. Justice Jay happened to be a day late to the first day of court due to transportation problems. I suppose his horse threw a shoe? The Supreme Court spent its first session organizing itself and determining its own powers and duties. The new Justices heard and decided their first actual case in 1792.

Lacking any specific direction from the Constitution, the new U.S. Judiciary spent its first 10 or so years as the weakest of all three branches of the government. The early federal courts failed to issue strong opinions or even take on controversial cases. The Supreme Court was not even sure if it had the power to consider the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress.

This situation seemed to have changed drastically in 1801 when President John Adams appointed John Marshall of Virginia to be the fourth Chief Justice. Confident that nobody would tell him not to, Marshall took clear and firm steps to define the role and powers of both the Supreme Court and the judiciary system. This is something that seemed to have gone unnoticed so far.

The Supreme Court, under John Marshall, defined itself with its historic 1803 decision in the case of Marbury v. Madison. In this single landmark case, the Supreme Court established its power to interpret the U.S. Constitution and to determine the constitutionality of laws passed by congress and the state legislatures. John Marshall went on to serve as Chief Justice for a record 34 years, along with several Associate Justices who served for well over 20 years. During his time on the bench, Marshall succeeded in molding the federal judicial system into what many, as I do, consider to be today's most powerful branch of government.

Before settling at nine justices in

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