Historical Highlights

The Creation of the Judiciary Committee

June 01, 1813
The Creation of the Judiciary Committee Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
One of the longest standing committees in the House, the House Judiciary Committee oversees impeachment proceedings.
On this date, Representative John George Jackson of Virginia introduced a measure to create the Committee on the Judiciary. When it passed two days later, the Judiciary Committee became the thirteenth standing committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. Jackson thought that many of the nation’s laws were “defective” and needed to be amended. But in the early 1800s, the House lacked a central authority on the courts, leaving it to select committees or the Committee of the Whole to review issues relating to the federal judiciary on an ad hoc basis. Representative Charles J. Ingersoll of Pennsylvania chaired the first standing Judiciary Committee which consisted of seven members. With a primary task of considering legislation related to judicial proceedings, the committee quickly accrued work as its jurisdiction expanded to include ruling on potential constitutional amendments. In 1880, civil and criminal laws along with their penalties were incorporated into the committee’s jurisdiction. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 folded many new areas of responsibility into the committee’s jurisdiction including patents and immigration and naturalization. The committee’s workload continued to increase during the 20th century due to the expansion of the court system, the country’s growing and diversifying population, and the creation of new technologies challenging copyright, patents, and trademarks. The modern committee also conducts oversight studies and investigations of legislative programs and policies, determines whether policy objectives of Congress are being implemented by the government, and analyzes national and international problems facing the United States that might require a federal response. Under the leadership of Emanuel Celler of New York, the committee played an instrumental part in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as four constitutional amendments. Chairing the committee for 11 Congresses, the longest in Judiciary Committee history, Celler stated, “The power to investigate is a great public trust.”

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