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Establishing the U.S. Federal Court System

supremecourt.jpgToday marks the 221st anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. federal court system.

On September 24, 1789, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was signed by President George Washington. This congressional act defined three levels of federal courts: the Supreme Court, which would have a Chief Justice and five Associate Justices; circuit courts, which heard civil cases and appeals from district courts; and district courts, which generally heard admiralty and maritime cases and cases involving monetary disputes up to $100. We still have the basic three-tier structure of federal courts today.

To learn more about the history of this law, check out the Library of Congress's Primary Documents in American History page devoted to the act. Here you'll find links to historic congressional debates over the bill. The Federal Judicial Center's Landmark Judicial Legislation page has historical articles on this act and many other laws that affected the judiciary, including the creation of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Bankruptcy Courts.


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