Origins of the Federal Court System

Appointment, Confirmation, and Qualifications

When and how did the Court come to be composed of nine justices?

The Court’s membership grew to nine members with the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1869. The thinking behind the legislation was to have a Supreme Court justice for every circuit court of appeals. Since there were nine circuit courts, it made sense to have nine justices on the Supreme Court.

The number of justices has fluctuated over the years from between five to ten. Since 1869, the number has remained at nine. However, in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced his “court-packing” plan that would have increased the Court’s size to as many as fifteen justices. His proposal was not passed and the number has remained constant.


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