The Court System

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.


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