Birth of the Nation: The First Federal Congress 1789-1791
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    Creation of the Judiciary
The Old Royal Exchange Building in New York City,
site of the meetings of the first U.S. Supreme Court
(Courtesy of the New York Historical Society)

"The 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."

Article III, Section 1

One of the foremost challenges facing the First Federal Congress was the issue of the federal judiciary. The Federal Convention gave far less attention to the judicial branch than to the legislative and the executive. This happened because the task was complicated, because virtually no federal precedents existed, and because members recognized that this was a controversial issue and too much detail might alienate support for the Constitution. Even so, the Antifederalists focused on Article III as especially dangerous to the rights of the states and those citizens who lacked wealth and influence. During the ratification process, several states proposed Constitutional amendments to limit the power of the judiciary and guarantee individual rights in federal courts. Thus, members of Congress arrived in New York well aware that defining the judiciary must be on their immediate agenda and that compromise would be necessary.

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