Historical Highlights

The Establishment of the Supreme Court

September 17, 1789
The Establishment of the Supreme Court Image courtesy of Library of Congress Dedicating his life to public service, John Jay served as a legislator, a diplomat, a governor, and a justice.
On this date, the House concluded debate and agreed to establish the Supreme Court and the federal court system as defined by Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution. “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court,” the framers of the Constitution wrote, “and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” The House approved the Judiciary Act of 1789 and President George Washington signed it into law on September 24, 1789. The bill provided for a Supreme Court composed of five associate justices and one chief justice, as well as for the establishment of 13 judicial districts throughout the country. Among the early chief justices, individuals with legislative experience were chosen to head the Supreme Court. President Washington selected former Continental Congress Delegate John Jay of New York as the first chief justice. Jay held the post until his resignation in 1795. Jay was succeeded by fellow Continental Congress Members, John Rutledge of South Carolina and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut. Representative John Marshall of Virginia became the fourth Chief Justice in 1801 and served until his death in 1835.

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